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Copyright 1951 by Will Herberg 

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this 

book, or portions thereof, in any form whatsoever. 

Manufactured in the United States of America. 

Designed by Stefan Salter. 

First Printing, August 1951 
Second Printing, April 1952 




I. Modern Man in Search of the Absolute 

1. The Plight of Modern Man 3 

2. At the Brink of the Abyss: The Permanent Crisis of Life 8 

3 . The Devaluation of Life 1 6 

4. Delusive Security: the Substitute Faiths of Our Time 25 

5. Decision: the "Leap of Faith" 32 

//. God and Man 

6. The Fundamental Outlook of Hebraic Religion 47 

7. The "God-Idea" and the Living God 57 

8. God and Man 69 

9. The Divine Imperative: Ethics and Religion 87 

10. The Divine Imperative: the Absolute and the Relative 106 

11. The Quest for Salvation 115 

///. Religion and Society 

12. Religion and Society 133 

13. Justice and the Social Order 145 

14. Society, State and the Individual 168 

15. History: Idea and Meaning 193 

16. History: Meaning and Fulfilment 211 

IV. The Mystery of Israel 

17. Scripture, Revelation and Reason 243 

18. The Nature and Destiny of Israel 261 

19. Torah: Teaching, Law and Way 286 

20. Conclusion: Faith for Living 307 
Index 311 



This book is in the nature of a confession of faith. It is an attempt 
to make explicit what I take to be the truth about my religious 
existence. To stand witness to one's faith and to try to communicate 
a sense of its meaning, power and relevance: that, it seems to me, 
is at bottom all that theology can pretend to do without falling into 
the delusion that it is speaking "objectively" from the throne of 

The whole burden of my "confession of faith" is that I find the 
truth of my existence as man and as Jew illumined by historical 
Judaism in a way that directly compels acceptance not merely 
intellectual affirmation but total acceptance as the very foundation 
of life. As Franz Rosenzweig and the religious existentialists of* all 
ages have emphasized, it is an acceptance which involves one's 
whole being and upon which one stakes one's entire existence. My 
"confession of faith" is, therefore, meant as a declaration of total 

When I speak of historical Judaism, I mean the religious affirma- 
tion embodied in the biblical-rabbinic tradition. I am well aware, 
of course, that there are various readings of this tradition, differing 
widely in important respects. What I try to do, and all that I can 
presume to Bo, is to present my reading, together with some sugges- 
tions as to why I find it valid. That is why I call my book "An 
Interpretation of Jewish Religion." 

The attentive reader will note that the approach shifts as the 
book goes on. In the first part of the book (chaps. 1-5), the view- 
point is that of existential analysis and criticism. In the second 
part (chaps. 6- 16), the attempt is made to present the basic teach- 
ings of Jewish faith in their relevance to individual and social life. 
In the final section (chaps. 17-19), dealing with "The Mystery 
of Israel," Jewish faith is presented as Heilsgeschichte. This repeated 


x Foreword 

shift of approach may perhaps prove distracting, but I have found 
it to be the only way in which I could communicate what I wanted 
to say about Jewish faith in its relation to the perennial condition 
of man, on the one hand, and to the particular perplexities of our 
time, on the other. 

To make an adequate statement of my indebtedness to men and 
books is utterly beyond my power. What I owe to Reinhold Niebuhr 
in the formation of my general theological outlook, every page of 
this book bears witness. To the writings of Solomon Schechter, I 
owe my first appreciation of how vital and relevant, how contempo- 
rary, the rabbinic tradition can be. I have almost without exception 
followed his interpretation of that tradition. To Martin Buber and 
Franz Rosenzweig, I owe not only my basic "existentialist" approach 
but also and here I can never sufficiently express my gratitude 
my understanding of how to establish my religious existence in 
Jewish terms in the modern world. 

I must now speak of Milton Steinberg. I don't know how I can 
possibly convey to the reader what my three years of close friend- 
ship with Milton Steinberg, the three years immediately preceding 
his death, meant to me in the making of this book. I can say this: 
that had it not been for Milton Steinberg, this book might not have 
come into being and almost certainly would not have been com- 
pleted. He read my original manuscript through the fifteenth 
chapter with a care, concern and critical insight that one does not 
ordinarily bestow on the work of another. I took every one of his 
many suggestions and criticisms, as they emerged out of our vigorous 
discussions, with the utmost seriousness and have followed virtually 
all of them. On some points we differed, but our differences were 
as nothing in comparison with the common commitment and com- 
mon understanding that bound us together. 

To Solomon Grayzel, editor of the Jewish Publication Society, 
I owe many thanks for his original invitation to write this book and 
for his unfailing patience at my long delays. To Dr. Grayzel and to 
Gershon Cohen, I must express my appreciation for the help they 
gave me in checking and establishing rabbinical sources. Gershon 
Cohen, Hershel Matt, Monford Harris, Max Ticktin and other of 
my friends read the manuscript, in whole or in part, and made 

Foreword ri 

many valuable suggestions. And finally, I must state, though I 
cannot conceivably state adequately, what I owe to my wife. Her 
advice and assistance at every stage in the making of this book 
amounted to virtual collaboration. To her the book is dedicated. 

A word on the usage of certain terms. I have employed the term 
"Hebraic religion" (or "biblical faith") to express the fundamental 
religious affirmation and commitment held in common by Judaism 
and Christianity. For the specific structure of Jewish spirituality, 
I have generally used the terms "Jewish religion" or "Jewish faith." 

New York City 
May, 1951 




In 1871, Algernon Charles Swinburne, the poet of the "new free- 
dom," hailed man in words that brought a thrill of pride to the 
"emancipated" minds of the day: 

Glory to Man in the highest, 
The maker and master of thingi. 
(Hymn to Man) 

Today, not much more than three-quarters of a century later, 
poets and publicists are proclaiming the "end of the human race." 
In his brief reign as "master of things," man has brought himself 
and his universe to the brink of destruction. The world of twentieth- 
century man is going out with a "whimper" and a "bang." Never 
in all recorded history has the collapse of the hopes of a civilization 
taken place so suddenly, almost in the sight of one generation. The 
"decline and fall" of the Roman Empire, stretching over centuries, 
was slow by comparison. In its chaos, insecurity and all-pervading 
sense of disaster, the world of today is more akin to the world of 
912, to the Dark Ages a thousand years ago, than to the world of 
1912, which some of us can still remember. 

No wonder that the prevailing mood of our time is frustration, 
bewilderment, despair. Horrors which only yesterday we all believed 
had been banished once and for all from human society slavery 
and despotism, vile superstition, famine and torture, persecution for 
opinion have come back in the most virulent form. The problems 
with which mankind is confronted have suddenly regressed to a 
primitive level. Our fathers were concerned with fashioning the good 
life; for us today, the all-absorbing problem is life itself, bare survival. 

Before our very eyes, within the past fifteen years, six million Jews 
were exterminated by the government of the culturally most advanced 
country of Europe. Before our very eyes, almost as many peasants 


4 Judaism and Modern Man 

were destroyed in state-engineered famines by the rulers of a regime 
that spoke in the name of socialism. In 1903, at the outset of our 
century, the Kishinev massacre in which forty-seven Jews were 
killed and ninety-two severely wounded aroused a storm of indig- 
nation throughout the world. Today, less than half a century later, 
millions of men are wiped out, millions more are enslaved, while we 
stand by silent, dumb yes, let us confess it too callous and 
indifferent even to glance at the record. Three decades of unbroken 
violence have done their work. 

With the feverish irresponsibility so characteristic of our times, 
we speak of "one world" as a discovery and achievement of our own. 
Yet what we have actually done in the past generation is to shatter 
the beginnings of world community into a thousand jagged fragments. 
In 1912, anyone could travel anywhere aside from "backward" 
Russia, Turkey and China without so much as a passport. Today, 
the greater part of the inhabitants of "enlightened" Europe cannot 
go to a nearby town without permission from the police. In 1912, a 
displaced persons camp would have been unthinkable in any Western 
nation. Today, scores of thousands of men, women and children are 
without home or fatherland, happy if they can find a grudging refuge 
in some corner of the earth. 

In 1912, progressive thought was preoccupied with the problem of 
developing adequate social control over modern industrialism so as 
to assure a greater measure of freedom and economic justice than 
seemed possible under an unregulated capitalism. This problem is, 
of course, still with us; indeed, in a larger and considerably changed 
context, it remains one of the crucial problems of our time. But 
over a large part of Europe and Asia, capitalism whatever there 
was of it has disappeared; it has given way to a regime that in its 
normal operations is simply industrial serfdom resting upon outright 
slavery. The forced-labor system of the totalitarian states, in which 
millions upon millions toil their lives away as mere chattels, has 
reintroduced human bondage on a scale unknown since the days of 
Rome. And even the "free" workers in these countries are indistin- 
guishable in status from serfs tied to their place of work and at the 
mercy of their overseers. The economic problem, too, has been 
reduced to the most primitive level. 

Modern Man in Search of the Absolute 5 

In 1912, parliamentarism and the constitutional state were in some 
form accepted as normative throughout the civilized world; the only 
task seemed to be the speedy elimination of the "remnants" of 
"feudalism" and special privilege that were still to be found in 
political life. Today, less than forty years after, parliamentary 
democracy is almost nonexistent outside the borders of a few countries 
of the Western world, and even there it is in many cases fighting for 
its life. Vast areas most of Europe and Asia are dominated by 
authoritarian regimes, which, for sheer ruthlessness and despotism, 
can find few parallels in history. In these areas, political and civil 
liberty, which is in retreat everywhere, has become an almost Utopian 

Of nothing were our fathers so proud as of the cultural emanci- 
pation they and their ancestors had won. By 1912, freedom of 
thought, of inquiry, of conscience, had been formally acknowledged 
everywhere, however grossly the principle was violated in practice. 
Because of such freedom, the men of those days could look with 
untroubled confidence to the spread of literacy and popular education 
for the final achievement of democracy. Nowhere has the reversal 
been more tragic. In most of the world today, any claim to freedom 
of thought is regarded as an intolerable presumption by the holders 
of power. Thinking in science, philosophy, art and religion, as well 
as in politics is the monopoly of the totalitarian state. Through its 
agencies of "education" and "popular enlightenment," the state tells 
its subjects what to think, what to feel, what to say and do, and 
through its vast network of control it makes sure that the totalitarian 
patterns pervade all of life. In the most literal sense, the problem of 
intellectual survival has been reduced to a desperate effort to find 
some nook or cranny overlooked by the state in which one may think 
a thought of one's own. 

In 1912, the world had not known a really large-scale war for 
almost a century, although conflict in the Balkans was already 
sounding a warning for those who had ears to hear. Since then, two 
world wars have overwhelmed mankind and a third looms in the 
offing. In the face of the approaching catastrophe, we stand utterly 
helpless. The very survival of mankind has become problematical, 
and there seems to be nothing we can do about it. 

6 Judaism and Modern Man 

All this in one brief generation! Everything modern man has 
touched has turned to ashes; every achievement of his has been trans- 
formed before his very eyes into a demonic force of destruction. 
His miracles of science and technology have led to industrial ex- 
ploitation and to the construction of instruments of self-annihila- 
tion. His grandiose schemes of universal enlightenment have found 
realization in the sway of the gutter journalist, the propagandist and 
demagogue, or in the monopoly of state indoctrination. His marvels 
of organization have taken form in organized despotism, organized 
slavery, organized mass-murder; his visions of permanent peace, in 
a succession of world wars; his fervent hopes of freedom, in universal 
regimentation and totalitarian dictatorship; his dreams of brotherhood 
and social justice, in the reign of terror, naked and unashamed. . . . 
Only yesterday man proclaimed himself "master of things"; today he 
considers himself lucky merely to survive. What has happened? 

There are still those among us who, like their spiritual ancestors 
of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, feel they can meet the 
problem by laying the blame on wicked kings, priests or capitalists 
and the evil institutions they produce or are produced by. There 
is much in this view. Wicked, tyrannical, power-lusting men there 
are aplenty, and the havoc they work is incalculable. Social institu- 
tions, too, necessarily reflect and tend to perpetuate oppression and 
injustice. But institutions are men writ large, and the wicked, tyran- 
nical, power-lusting man, at whose door the responsibility is to be 
laid, is everyman. Whatever be the line of inquiry, the thread leads 
back to man. Man is the problem. 

The events of the past generation have brought mankind to the 
brink of the abyss. But the horrors we glimpse are not merely the 
horrors of the hell without; they are also and primarily the horrors 
of the hell within, the chaos and evil in the heart of man. It is this 
glimpse of the hell within that so frightens us; our philosophy has done 
nothing to prepare us for it. Whatever it is that has gone wrong, it is 
obviously not merely something in the external machinery of life; it 
is something within the soul of man. 

We are all deeply involved in this spiritual confusion. We stare 
with horror at the demonic obsessions, the power-mad cults, that have 

Modern Man in Search of the Absolute 7 

seized upon millions of men in the past generation; we stare with 
horror, but also with fascination. For what have we to offer against 
these obsessive cults? What have we to offer not merely to others 
who may have succumbed but to ourselves, who are always on the 
verge of succumbing? Have we anything to preserve us against the 
sorcery of nihilism? Have we any faith, any "philosophy of life," 
that can give meaning to existence and save us from being driven 
headlong down the path of destruction? 

Modern man is beginning to lose the arrogance, the self-assurance, 
which speaks to us through Swinburne's verse in a tongue already 
strange though less than a century old. If the men for whom Swin- 
burne wrote were "modern" men, we of this generation are no longer 
so: our world, our age, is, let us say, post-modern. There are those 
who tell us that this is nothing but a "failure of nerve." Be it so; 
"nerve," in American English, has a double meaning, and to lose 
one's "nerve" may well be the first step to recovering the sense of 
reality without which there is no finding one's way again. 

Our post-modern generation, shocked out of its illusions by three 
decades of unbroken horror, is trying to find its way again; that is 
the meaning of the "return to religion" which so many have noted 
as the sign of our times. Much, almost everything, is still in con- 
fusion, but one thing seems to be emerging as the foundation of the 
new consciousness: the realization that the collapse of our civiliza- 
tion, the disasters of our time, are somehow the fruit of the fatal 
Prometheanism of modern man. In the historical period whose end- 
ing in a whimper and a bang we are now witnessing, man tried reck- 
lessly to dispense with the transcendental and to fashion his life and 
culture entirely in human terms, in implicit and often explicit denial 
of any reality beyond the merely human. In his incredible arrogance, 
he imagined himself entirely sufficient unto himself. The astounding 
expansion of natural science and technology fostered the illusion that 
human welfare was simply a matter of increasing economic pro- 
ductivity and industrial power. "Progress" became the new catch- 
word, replacing the older, now obsolete, notion of salvation. In 
morals and philosophy, in social life, even in religion, man omnipo- 
tent man became the "master" of all things. Intoxicated with his 
success, he denied God because he could imagine no power superior 

8 Judaism and Modern Man 

to his own. Or rather he transformed himself into God and began 
worshiping himself and his power. It was an appalling idolatry, and 
its consequences could hardly have been otherwise. If man is indeed 
the "master of things," then everything, literally everything, is per- 
mitted to him to him as individual, as collectivity, as dictator or 
state: there is nothing he need reverence, nothing he need fear, if 
only he has the power. Out of this self-idolatry was generated the 
demonism that has taken possession of humanity and driven it to 
the brink of the abyss. 

Our post-modern generation is beginning to understand this. It 
is beginning to see that in the process of establishing his autonomy 
and gaining mastery over the instruments of living, Western man 
has managed to lose his grasp of the meaning of life, his control over 
the dark destructive forces within himself and society. In gaining 
or rather in trying to gain the world, he has come very close to 
losing his soul. 

Our post-modern generation understands this, for it sees how the 
earthly paradise that man, in his delusions of grandeur, was to erect 
through his own unaided efforts has come to assume the aspect of 
one vast universal hell. Now we of this generation want to find our 
way back. But how? Where shall we turn? We have lost our di- 
rection and all but lost the ability to read the map that might show 
us how to regain it. 


No word is more common in our mouths or more familiar to our 
ears than the word "crisis." Every enterprise, every institution, every 
phase of modern life, stands under this ominous sign. A "philosophy 
of crisis" would seem to be not merely the most natural but actually 
the only intelligible, the only possible, philosophy for our time. 

Yet one may wonder whether in becoming such a humdrum, every- 

Modern Man in Search of the Absolute 9 

day affair, the word has not lost its meaning. Is not our constant, 
almost affectionate use of the term a device to escape its impact? 
Our first task if we are ever to understand the condition of man 
is to recover the full and living sense of the word "crisis." 

Crisis means insecurity, peril, threat of destruction; crisis means 
conflict, movement, urgency. But crisis also means judgment, "turn- 
ing," decision: it also points to the new reality beyond for the eyes 
of faith to discern. 

In all of these senses, human existence individual and collective 
stands under the sign of crisis; or, better put, human existence is crisis, 
is insecurity, peril, conflict, urgency, judgment and decision. Not 
merely human existence today, in this period of war and social con- 
vulsion, but human existence as such, the existence of man. 

It is, of course, true that the time we live in is pre-eminently a time 
of troubles. History seems to have taken our age by the throat and 
forced it to recognize the bloody reality of crisis and judgment. But 
the particular crisis of our time, for all the agony it has brought us, 
will sooner or later pass away; nothing in history is eternal. If suf- 
fering is to bring knowledge, as the Greek poet tells us it can, we 
must find a significance in our experience that transcends the passing 
historical phase. We must learn to discern the permanent crisis of 
life, the existential crisis which no time or history can cure. 

Whether we look outward or inward, we descry a restlessness, a 
dynamism, in human existance that drives life in all its phases to 
the brink, to the "boundary" or "limit," where the question of ulti- 
mate meaning suddenly arises and demands answer. But answer 
there is none certainly not on the level on which the question is 
asked. There is no turning back; yet ahead there is nothing but a 
yawning gulf of meaninglessness, absurdity and despair. Only on the 
other side of the abyss, only on a plane in which the natural conditions 
of life are transcended, can the answer be found and the meaning of 
existence regained. 

Most obvious to us the generation of the mid-twentieth century 
is the tragic absurdity of existence in its social and collective aspects. 
We have fought two world wars in our generation, the second against 
a monstrous tyranny that threatened to overwhelm us. We had no 

10 Judaism and Modern Man 

alternative, we had to fight, but before that war was over, another, 
startlingly similar in the threat it held out for us, was already loom- 
ing on the horizon. We may have to fight again a third world war 
in one generation but will that bring us out of the darkness? Will 
it not rather drive us yet further into the abyss? Our freedom of 
action is reduced almost to nothing, but we are compelled to make 
a decision. And upon this decision hangs our fate, insofar as fate 
can be enacted in history. 

In domestic affairs, almost all of us realize that some sort of re- 
form of the economic order is necessary so as to bring the centers of 
wealth and industrial power under social control. But does not social 
control bring with it the peril of state regimentation and totalitarian 
enslavement? Is not this one of the "lessons" history has impressed 
upon us so painfully in the course of the past generation? Act we 
must; yet how shall we act when all action seems doomed to self- 

In our political faith, the values of democracy and civil liberty 
seem fixed and secure. But are they? Can democracy stand the pres- 
sures of the contemporary "ice age"? What shall we do with those 
who shamelessly, brazenly, attempt to use our democracy in order 
to smash it and enslave us all? Can we exclude them from its opera- 
tions without destroying democracy itself? Again we are up against 
a blank wall; our certainty has vanished; every course we take seems 
perilous and self-defeating. 

In our social life, we erect vast institutions and organizations be- 
ginning with an all-engulfing industrialism in order to implement 
the various enterprises we have initiated for the purpose of enhancing 
the quality of life. But these institutions and organizations, by an iron 
logic of their own, generate bureaucracy and privilege, accelerate de- 
personalization and hasten the destruction of organic community be- 
tween man and man. What shall we do? Without large-scale organi- 
zation we cannot live; yet large-scale organization threatens our very 

These problems are not brought forward for the purpose of social 
diagnosis. They are brought forward because, although they are social 
and therefore historical problems, they point to something that is, at 
bottom, neither social or historical but existential: the self-defeating, 

Modern Man in Search of the Absolute 1 1 

self-destroying dynamic of human life conceived in its own terms. 
The political events and historical developments of our time hammer 
this fact home with shattering force* for, in our time, political events 
and historical developments are the outcropping of final existential 
realities. We live in an age when ultimate questions have, quite un- 
accountably, become immediate questions. 

These questions the final questions of existence arise and de- 
mand answer once we gain the courage to face them. The questions 
have always been there, but as long as we could comfort ourselves 
with flattering illusions and easy solutions, we could avoid seeing 
them. This is no longer possible today. 

What do we find when we look inward? The same relentless ex- 
istential pressure that drives us forward, by means of our very achieve- 
ments, to the brink of nothingness, to an abyss of meaninglessness, 
contradiction and unreality. 

Human existence is nothing if it is not personal concrete, indivi- 
dual, irreplaceable. "Man stamps many coins with the one seal and 
they are all like one another; but the King of Kings, the Holy One 
blessed is He, has stamped every man with the seal of the first man; 
yet not one of them is like his fellows." 1 This uniqueness is the ulti- 
mate, the "real" reality of life. But what becomes of it once we turn 
our glance upon it? What in our science, our philosophy, our thought 
can this intractable, irreducible, indestructible uniqueness of ours 
mean? Objective thought, philosophical or scientific, knows nothing 
of the absolutely concrete, absolutely unique, all thinking is necessarily 
in terms of abstractions, universals. How then shall I grasp the real 
"I" of my existence, the concrete, individual person that I am? If I 
cannot grasp it in objective thought, how shall I ground its existence? 
It is not merely the "I" who is in peril; it is also the "Thou" with whom 
the "I" enters into genuinely personal relations. Both are concrete, 
unique, personal existences and both are therefore thrown into ques- 
tion. Personality becomes utterly problematical; what we had taken 
to be the very rock of our existence threatens to vanish into meaning- 

The magnificent creative achievement of the human mind in com- 
prehending the universe in thought, in subjecting all things to the uni- 

12 Judaism and Modern Man 

form laws of reason and causality which nothing can escape, has 
evoked the very understandable admiration of man himself. We owe 
all our science and most of our philosophy to this enterprise. But like 
so many other aspects of human creativity, it no sooner triumphs than 
it turns upon and consumes itself. Analytical thought threatens not 
merely man the person but also man the thinker. What is man in the 
light of the science that has penetrated the universe? What is he but 
part of nature, a bit of matter, a structure of energy, an organism, an 
animal, a cell of society? Are not his actions, his beliefs, indeed his 
very thoughts like everything else in the universe determined by 
antecedent causes? "What man thinks, feels and does is determined 
by his culture," a professor of anthropology tells us in a leading sci- 
entific journal. "Human beings are merely the instruments through 
which cultures express themselves. . . . Neither as groups nor as indi- 
viduals do we have a choice of roles or fates." 2 Not all contemporary 
scientists would put it so crudely, and many would dispute the all- 
determining role of culture in favor of some other causal determinant. 
But all would have to affirm, insofar as they remain scientists, that 
man is simply a natural object, subject to the same natural determinism 
as the rest of nature. But note the self-destructive force of this logic. 
Is not the scientist, the philosopher, himself a man? Is not his science, 
his philosophy, even his very principle of determinism, as inevitable 
and determined a consequence of antecedent causes as the rumbling 
of thunder, the murmuring of the leaves or the chirping of a cricket? 
A natural event is fully taken account of when its antecedent causes 
are given; no other question need arise. On what ground then does 
the philosopher or scientist claim that the natural event called his 
"thought" should be "judged" in terms of "standards" of "truth" and 
"falsity"? Indeed, what can these terms mean in his deterministic 
system? Nothing whatever. But if these terms have no meaning, his 
thought loses its claim to truth, even its significance as thought. And 
if it abandons its claim to truth and significance, it destroys itself as 
philosophy or science. 

What shall we conclude? There is but one answer: the science and 
reason that have enabled man to "comprehend" the universe if taken 
as ultimate destroy themselves and man along with them. Blank 
absurdity meets us at the end of this road, too. 

Modern Man in Search of the Absolute 13 

Man finds the meaning of his human existence in his capacity for 
decision, in his freedom of choice. It is a dreadful freedom, for it 
also means responsibility, but without it man would be as nothing. Yet 
is not decision likewise merely an illusion? Can we speak of freedom 
of choice and responsibility within the limits of natural human ex- 

The more we examine this vaunted capacity of ours, the more du- 
bious it becomes. Our character, our habits, our sentiments, our 
motives, are they not all fixed and conditioned by a whole variety of 
factors some rooted in heredity, others going back to infancy and 
childhood, still others reflecting the external social, economic and cul- 
tural circumstances of life? Even our mental life, we are reliably in- 
formed, is in large, and determinative, part unconscious. 

What sense then is there in speaking of "decision"? Is not the "de- 
cision" made for us by the totality of conditioning circumstances? Yet 
without decision, without freedom, what is left of man, what is left 
of human existence? 

Even if we somehow succeed in retrieving our freedom from the 
peril of annihilation, we have merely carried the existential problem 
to another and more critical phase. Freedom means anxiety and 
guilt; that is why anxiety and guilt so pervade the whole of human 
existence. Is not our existential anxiety, in fact, generated out of the 
feeling of the immeasurable consequence yet ultimate groundlessness 
of every act of decision? Does not our sense of guilt reflect the 
frightening discrepancy between the infinite obligations under which 
we stand, on the one hand, and the finiteness of our capacities and per- 
versity of our impulses, on the other? We must choose but in what 
shall our decision be grounded? We must act but how can we pos- 
sibly act responsibly? We must live up to our obligations obligations 
laid upon us by whom? We must somehow master the guilt that over- 
whelms us but where shall we find the power to do so? In terms 
merely of our limited being, there is no answer; yet the dynamic of 
human existence decision, responsibility, guilt 3 drives us to the 
point where unless an answer is forthcoming, there is no escaping the 
bottomless pit. 

But surely the final verdict on human life comprehended in its own 
terms is given by death. Death is the final "boundary situation"; 

14 Judaism and Modern Man 

it rips off all deceptions and self-deceptions. Seen in the perspective 
of that decisive moment, what is any man's life but a record of folly, 
futility and frustration? What is history but a chaos, a jumble, a sense- 
less conglomeration of senseless events? For death not only brings 
all our enterprises to an abrupt end; it reduces them all to nonsense. 
One man sows, another reaps; one man builds, another inhabits. All 
that we have constructed, so laboriously, so conscientiously, so hope- 
fully, a breath of air, a turn in the tide of history, may wipe out or, 
what is even more dismaying, may pervert to uses abhorrent to our 
heart. The work which the pioneers of bourgeois individualism began 
ended in the mass-society. The work which the pioneers of Russian 
socialism initiated with such high hopes ended in totalitarian slavery. 
Is this not the pattern of all things? If there is no fulfilment more than 
human life or history can give, what is life but "a tale told by an 
idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing"? Everything becomes 
"questionable in the face of death. Essential to man can be that which 
retains its value only in the face of death, while that which does not 
stand this ultimate test reveals itself in its utter delusiveness." 4 But 
on the level of the merely historical, the merely human, the merely 
natural, what is there that can stand this test? 

Death is the final judge and critic: it is the crisis of life. And the 
verdict? Long ago the Preacher pronounced it: 

What profit has a man of all his toil beneath the sun? One gen- 
eration goes and another comes but the earth is forever un- 
changed. ... I have seen all the works that are done under the 
sun and behold all is vanity and chasing of wind, a crookedness 
not to be straightened, a void not to be filled. . . . Wisdom and 
knowledge are madness and folly. . . . The wise man is no more 
remembered than the fool, for already in the days that follow 
everything is forgotten. . . . Vanity of vanities, all is vanity 
(Eccles. 1:3-4, 14-15; 2:16; passim). 

From this verdict there is no appeal unless death, unless life it- 
self, is transcended and left behind. 

Whatever line we take* we are relentlessly driven into the same 
predicament. Face to face with the ultimate questions of existence, 
we have nothing to say. We stand confounded, perplexed, consumed 

Modern Man in Search of the Absolute 15 

with anxiety. Everything has become problematical, everything has 
turned into meaninglessness, absurdity, nothingness. But that every- 
thing is our existence, our very life. 

What does it all signify? It signifies that, deceive himself as he may, 
man is never entirely at home in the natural universe of which he is 
part and he knows it. The essential homelessness of the human 
spirit is the theme of much of recent philosophy and imaginative 
literature. Buber 5 speaks of the "special solitude" that is the mark of 
man. The world which we inhabit affords us no resting place, no 
security: "We are the incommensurable idiots of the universe." 6 Pas- 
cal expressed this terror of existence in unforgettable words: 

When I consider the brief span of my life, swallowed up in eter- 
nity past and to come, the little space that I occupy, lost in the 
immensity of space of which I know nothing and which knows 
nothing of me I am terrified. 7 

Perhaps only a philosopher would ever feel impelled to express 
himself in such ultimate form. But any man every man is bound 
to be stirred by this metaphysical dread once he brings himself to the 
point of asking for the meaning of things, even if he does not go be- 
yond the social institutions of which he is part; for even on this level, 
perhaps especially on this level, the precariousness, the instability, 
the utter unintelligibility of existence is overwhelming. 

Insecurity is notoriously the common lot of men, permeating every 
sphere of life. What is more, every move we make to overcome our 
insecurity on some particular level not only never quite achieves its 
purpose but only too often meiely succeeds in transferring the insecur- 
ity to another and more critical phase of existence. The means we 
employ to gain security in material life become the institutions that 
are responsible for the economic insecurity which is so perplexing a 
problem for our time. Against this insecurity we try to protect 
ourselves by programs and devices which create the politico-moral 
ambiguities of collectivism and state planning. The security men and 
nations seek, and do indeed to an extent find, in preponderant power 
is never final; it only drives them to deeper insecurities. And so it 
is in every aspect of life. As long as we try to find or rather to 
establish the center of our being, the meaning of our existence, 

16 Judaism and Modern Man 

within ourselves, we are bound to fail. And this failure is not merely 
intellectual; it is existential through and through: it strikes at the 
foundations of life. 

Human existence, individual and social alike, is radically incom- 
plete, fragmentary. The attempt to comprehend life in its own terms, 
to live it in and for itself, must necessarily prove self-destructive. Hu- 
man existence, through its own dialectic, drives relentlessly on to its 
ultimate limits, where it is suddenly brought face to face with a chaos 
of insecurity and meaninglessness. From this chaos there is no escape 
except by breaking through the natural conditions of life and seeking 
completion in something beyond. Along this self -transcending dimen- 
sion of life, the reality, the meaning, of human existence is to be 
found if anywhere. 


1. M. Sanh. 4.5. 

2. Leslie A. White, "Man's Control Over Civilization: An Anthropocentric 
Illusion," Scientific Monthly, Vol. LXVI (March, 1948), No. 3. 

3. Freud points out that "even though man has repressed his evil desires 
into his unconsciousness and would then gladly say to himself that he is 
no longer answerable for them, he is yet compelled to feel his responsi- 
bility in the form of a sense of guilt for which he can discern no founda- 
tion." Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (Allen and Unwin: Lon- 
don, 1922), p. 279. 

4. Erich Frank, Philosophical Understanding and Religious Truth (Ox- 
ford: New York, 1945), p. 10. 

5. Martin Buber, "What is Man?" Between Man and Man (Kegan Paul: 
London, 1947), p. 134. 

6. James Rorty, "Words for a Young Woman," Nation, Vol. CXXIII, 
No. 3192. 

7. Pascal, Penstes, No. 205. 


Human life, individual and collective, is a dynamic structure of 
values. Without existential commitment to some system of values 

Modern Man in Search of the Absolute 17 

which, despite an inescapable element of relativity, is felt to be some- 
how anchored in ultimate reality, human life in any significant sense 
is simply impossible. Man lives by values; all his enterprises and ac- 
tivities, insofar as they are specifically human, make sense only in 
terms of some structure of purposes which are themselves values in 
action. The first requirement that a philosophy of life adequate to 
human existence must meet is that it vindicate the full reality and 
significance of values in the universe. 

This the philosophy of modern man cannot do. Indeed, its main 
tendency through recent decades has been to drain the universe of 
value and thus to devaluate human life. Since life void of value is, 
however, ultimately impossible, the positivistic devaluation of life that 
lies at the heart of the modern world-outlook has in effect opened the 
door to the surreptitious introduction of every variety of folly and 
superstition, which is sure to find welcome if only it holds out the 
promise of restoring some unity and significance to life. 

The devaluation of life in the modern world has proceeded along 
two closely related lines: (a) the extrusion of value from the uni- 
verse through the premature identification of science and reality; 
and (b) the reduction of value to semi-illusory "subjectivity" through 
the corrosion of relativism. In each case, a valid and important in- 
sight has, through failure to observe its necessary limitations, been 
converted into a dangerous fallacy. In their total effect, the two ten- 
dencies have combined to create a picture of the universe in which 
man, his hopes and aspirations, his interests and enterprises, are rele- 
gated to a mean and paltry place. The drift of modern thought, as 
expressed in naturalism and relativism, has not simply made man a 
stranger in the universe, which in some sense he inescapably is, it 
has reduced him to a mere nonentity, utterly insignificant amidst the 
vast play of natural forces, which constitute his only reality and yet 
know nothing of him or his values. 1 

The history of modern science from the days of Galileo and Des- 
cartes is a record of the systematic extrusion of value from what is 
conceived to be the reality of the universe. This process can best be 
described in the vocabulary which, though brought into use by Locke 
two and a half centuries ago, still governs the "scientific" thinking of 

18 Judaism and Modern Man 

modern man. Locke distinguished between "primary" qualities, which 
like extension, motion and geometrical shape are supposed really 
to belong to the external object, and "secondary" qualities, which 
like color, sound, odor and taste are obviously not in the object it- 
self but are the result of the effect of the stimulation of the human 
senses. Every person today with the least pretension to scientific 
understanding knows that "greenness," for example, does not inhere 
in the grass as physical object. The grass as physical object sends 
forth light waves of a certain frequency; when these light waves im- 
pinge on the proper sensory organ the eye they bring about the 
sensation of green in the mind. This applies to sound and the other 
sense qualities as well. Physical reality, therefore, is really something 
without color, odor, taste or sound; all of these qualities, which seem 
to us to be the very substance of things, are "merely subjective," oc- 
cupying an altogether secondary, indeed almost illusory, status in the 
scheme of reality. What this "scientific" conception of the universe 
comes to has been well described by Whitehead: "Nature is a dull 
affair, soundless, scentless, colorless; merely the hurrying of material, 
endlessly, meaninglessly." 2 This is the world, this is the reality, in 
which modern man must somehow try to lead a significant existence. 

But the difficulty goes deeper. If even "secondary" qualities, such 
as color, taste or sound, are "merely subjective" and not there at all 
in the real world, what shall we say of values, which have often been 
called "tertiary" qualities? Surely these have even less claim to lodg- 
ment in the "real world" that is revealed by science. Value qualities 
like truth, beauty, goodness must be even more subjective than the 
data of the senses, even more remote from any reality as conceived 
by science. In fact, they seem to be little more than figments of the 
mind, somehow projected upon an alien reality: "purposeless, . . . 
void of meaning, blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, . . . 
is the world which Science presents for our belief." 3 

The world of science, whether of Newton or of Einstein, is a world 
of objective process describable in terms of factual statements, which 
remain factual no matter how abstract. Into this world, no values in 
the proper sense can enter. 4 It is thus a world that is not merely color- 
less, soundless and scentless but also meaningless and valueless. No 
merely scientific picture of the universe can possibly find a place for 

Modern Man in Search of the Absolute 19 

the values upon which significant human life depends. This conclu- 
sion is incontrovertible. 

It is also fateful // the world of science is taken, as it is in modern 
thought, to be simply identical with the world of reality. If science 
reveals the "real reality" of things, reality is void of value. Scientism 
by which name we may designate the conversion of science into a 
revelation of ultimate reality inevitably leads to the utter devaluation 
of the universe. 

What then are these "values" about which so much ado is made? 
They are, to the positivist devotee of scientism, part of the strange 
illusory world of "subjectivity" outside the scope of scientific fact. 
Some hold "values" to be nothing but emotional outbursts; others re- 
gard them as the verbalizations of the vagaries of personal taste; still 
others, as a queer "inner" reflection of folkways or class and commun- 
ity standards. But all agree that values as values have no status in 
reality and therefore no normative significance in terms of reality. 
"Values" may help to describe how people do in fact behave; they can 
have absolutely no meaning as norms beyond and distinct from facts. 

Modern positivism has not hesitated to carry this devaluating logic 
to its final conclusion and has thereby brought the problem of value 
in all its urgency to the fore as a problem for modern man. It is not 
the philosopher alone who is concerned; it is also, and above all, the 
mass of modern-minded men, who may not be acquainted with the 
technical vocabulary or the latest aspects of positivist speculation but 
who are, nevertheless, thoroughly permeated with its basic concepts 
and attitudes. They know that value no longer has any place in the 
universe of science which they take to be the only real universe 
and they are therefore no longer able to orient their human existence 
in terms of reality. 

The push of scientism toward devaluation has been reinforced by a 
simultaneous drift toward relativism, which also set in with the rise 
of modern thought. Relativism is, at bottom, the view that value- 
embodying ideas or activities are in reality nothing but a reflection 
or product of some particular empirical context and therefore possess 
neither meaning nor validity apart from that context. Right and 
wrong, good and evil, true and false, it is held, make no sense unless 

20 Judaism and Modern Man 

they are "relativized," unless true is made to mean "true from this 
particular point of view"; right, "right by the standards of this particu- 
lar culture"; good, "good according to the ethics of this particular 
class or society." Nothing is absolute; everything is relative. 

The experience to which iclativism appeals is widespread and fa- 
miliar; relativism as a philosophy has assumed many forms in its long 
history. Already the sophist Protagoras proclaimed that "man is the 
measure of all things." Ancient skepticism rang all possible changes 
on this theme, and in early modern times it became the recurrent sub- 
ject of Montaigne's reflections. But the relativism that has proved so 
corrosive in the contemporary world is scientific rather than philo- 
sophical: it looks for inspiration not so much to skeptical speculations 
about the fallibility of human reason as to recent scientific evidence 
of the bewildering variety of customs and attitudes among men. 

Already Pascal noted how strange it was that "three degrees of 
latitude reverse all jurisprudence; a meridian decides the truth: . . . 
truth on this side of the Pyrenees, error on the other." 5 This kind of 
anthropological relativism, which calls attention to the wide variation 
of customs and attitudes among men, is at once the earliest and the 
most /ecent type. Herodotus resorted to it, and it is still the chief 
stock T in trade of the contemporary anthropologist who strives to re- 
duce trhe value-embodying ideas and activities of a group simply to 
its "pattern of culture." During the nineteenth century, historical 
relativism historicism came to the fore. It was now the stage or 
phar^e of historical development that was held to be determinative; 
eacl.1 period had its own characteristic outlook, its own ideas and 
vaLues, restricted in meaning and validity to that period. At about 
th*e same time, sociological relativism made its appearance and insist- 
'6d that everything was really the expression of social situation or 
class interest; the latter was especially stressed by Marx. Most recent 
largely the work of this century is the psychological relativism 
associated with the teachings of Freud: ideas, values and standards 
are regarded as at bottom merely the expression of unconscious de- 
sires striving for fulfilment and of the various mechanisms by which 
these desires are diverted or checked. In the thinking of modern man, 
all of these varieties of relativism are commingled and fused; what 

Modern Man in Search of the Absolute 21 

emerges is a deep though rather vague feeling that right, truth and 
justice are, at bottom, merely a matter of ideology or opinion; that no 
one can help feeling the way he does about those things; and that there 
is no rational ground for holding to one set of values or standards 
rather than to another. 

It is necessary to acknowledge explicitly the important elements of 
validity in scientism and relativism; but it is also necessary to insist 
with at least equal emphasis on their utter inadequacy. The world 
of science is indeed very much as it is pictured by modern positivism 
but the world of science is very far from being the world of reality! 
The world of science, Whitehead points out: 

is an abstraction, arrived at by confining thought to purely for- 
mal relations which then masquerade as the final reality. This is 
why science, in its perfection, relapses into the study of differen- 
tial equations. The concrete world has slipped through the 
meshes of the scientific net. 6 

The error of scientism consists, not in taking science seriously 
science is one of the enduring achievements of the human spirit but 
in mistaking the nature of science and taking it to be somehow a 
revelation of the "real reality" of things. It is not that at all, and re- 
sponsible modern scientists and philosophers are the first to say so. 
"The most general definition of reality for science," Victor Lenzen 
says, "is that it is the universe of discourse of a conceptual system 
that serves to correlate and predict the data of experience." 7 When a 
physicist affirms the existence of an electron and denies the existence 
of the ether, he is simply asserting that the conceptual construction 
called an electron serves effectively to "correlate and predict the data 
of experience," whereas the concept of the ether does not. It is of 
such entities that the world of science is in large part composed. From 
this world which is not the world of experience but merely symbolic 
of it 8 value is indeed excluded, but this world is not the concrete 
world of human existence; it is a highly abstract "world" constructed 
for a special purpose and quite adequate to that purpose. The fault, 
in short, lies not with science but with the "naive belief that science 
represents an absolute and exclusive view of reality." 9 It lies with the 

22 Judaism and Modern Man 

utterly illegitimate positivist conversion of science into an ultimate 
philosophy, or metaphysic, of reality. 

Very much the same may be said of relativism. That attitudes, ideas 
and activities do not pursue a disembodied existence but are always 
somehow related to men and their situation in life is an important 
truth indeed, as we shall see, it is an important religious truth and 
we have to thank the anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists 
for hammering this truth home in the face of a blind and uncritical 
absolutism. But from this truth one may not infer that values are 
"nothing but" the reflection of something else; above all, may one not 
infer that relativity pervades the entire realm of value and leaves noth- 
ing untouched. Such thoroughgoing relativism not only goes beyond 
empirical fact, 10 it is philosophically self -destructive; if seriously en- 
tertained, it threatens to turn around and destroy the very principle 
of relativism. For this principle is but an "idea," and ideas, we are 
assured by the relativist, have neither meaning nor validity apart from 
their particular context. How then does the relativist presume to 
apply his principle, his "idea," to all contexts, to all situations, without 
regard to time, place or circumstance? How does the anthropological 
relativist presume to apply his principle of relativism, which is an out- 
growth of and relative to his own particular cultural pattern, to all 
other societies and cultures? How does the Marxist relativist, for 
whom the principle of class relativism is part of the proletarian class 
ideology and hence "true" only from that class point of view, pre- 
sume to apply it to the ideology of other classes from whose point of 
view it may not be true? How does the Freudian relativist, who "ex- 
plains" conscious ideas and conceptions as reflections of determinative 
unconscious processes, presume to apply his own conscious principle 
of psychological relativism without reducing it also to some uncon- 
scious process? How, in short, does the relativist presume to relativize 
everybody and everything except himself and his ideas? Apparently 
what the relativist is actually doing is to grant himself and his particu- 
lar principle of relativism a special exemption from the corroding 
skepticism of the doctrine he preaches thereby in effect rejecting its 
sweeping pretensions. "All philosophies based on universal relativity," 
Carl Becker says, "must be prepared at the appropriate moment to 
commit hara-kiri in deference to the ceaseless change which they pos- 

Modern Man in Search of the Absolute 23 

tulate." 11 Thoroughgoing relativism the denial of anything beyond 
the reach of relativity is simply self-destructive. 

This point is of crucial importance in the refutation of the devaluat- 
ing philosophy of relativism. Without some fixed point of support be- 
yond relativity, no system of standards or values, no matter how rela- 
tive, is possible. Everything would collapse, and in the collapse sci- 
ence itself would be inescapably involved, for science strange as it 
may sound is founded on values. 12 To save science, and indeed to 
save every other enterprise of the human spirit, some point of lodgment 
for value in the world of reality must be found. But where is this point 
tc be found if reality is made identical with the world of science and 

The philosophical refutation of scientism and radical relativism is 
thus not very difficult, but formal arguments, however valid, are far 
from sufficient. The philosophy that has become normative for 
modern man is part of an entire spiritual complex which paradoxically 
combines a practical Prometheanism with a world-outlook that is 
nothing short of nihilism. If, indeed, values cannot claim some lodg- 
ment in reality, and right and wrong, true and false, good and evil, 
are no more than merely a matter of ideology or conditioning, then 
clearly nothing is ultimately better than anything else and everything 
is permitted. 13 But man, in thus becoming a law unto himself, loses 
the ground of his existence and the dynamic of his activity. Utter 
moral chaos results. 

The world-outlook of modern man, compounded of relativism and 
scientism, can find no place for value in reality. But without a secure 
foundation in value, human life and all its enterprises are deprived 
of sense and meaning. Decision is paralyzed; judgment is rendered 
void and empty. Along this load, too, modern man has been driven 
to the brink of the abyss. 


1 . D. W. Gotschalk, himself a naturalist in philosophy, calls attention to 
"the perplexing situation that confronts naturalism, today even more 
urgently than ever before, stemming from the persistent paradox of com- 

24 Judaism and Modern Man 

bining an optimistic humanism with a paltry, even dismal, conception of 
human life and destiny" ("The Paradox of Naturalism," The Journal 
of Philosophy, March 14, 1946). This "paltry and dismal conception" 
is well formulated by Bertrand Russell: "Man, with his knowledge of 
good and evil, is but a helpless atom in a world which has no such 
knowledge." "A Free Man's Worship," Mysticism and Logic (Norton: 
New York, 1929), pp. 49-50. 

2. A. N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (Macmillan: New 
York, 1941), p. 80. 

3. Russell, "A Free Man's Worship," Mysticism and Logic, pp. 47, 56. 

4. Although, of course, the fact that particular human beings hold certain 
things to be "good," "true," "beautiful," etc., and other things not to be 
so, must be taken note of in science simply because it is a fact. 

5. Pascal, Pensees, No. 294. 

6. A. N. Whitehead, Modes of Thought (Macmillan: New York, 1938), 
p. 25. 

7. Quoted by D. S. Robinson, The Principles of Reasoning (Appleton: 
New York, 1948), 3rd Rev. Ed., p. 388. 

8. "The exploration of the external world by the methods of physical 
science leads not to a concrete reality but to a shadow world of symbols, 
beneath which these methods are unadapted for penetrating." A. S. Edd- 
ington, Science and the Unseen World (Macmillan: New York, 1929), 
p. 73. 

9. Benjamin Ginsburg, "Science," Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences 
(MacMillan: New York, 1930-34), XIII, 592b. 

10. "Contrary to widely held views, comparative studies reveal a con- 
siderable uniformity in the moral judgments regarding the fundamental 
relationships." Morns Ginsberg, Reason and Unreason in Society (Har- 
vard University: Cambridge, Mass., 1948), p. 25. Professor Ginsberg 
quotes (p. 73) from Westermarck to the same effect: "When we examine 
the moral rules laid down by the customs of savage peoples, we find that 
they in very large measure resemble the rules of civilized nations." 

11. Carl Becker, "Progress," Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, XII, 

12. "Judgments of worth are no part of the texture of physical science 
but they are part of the motive of its production. . . . Without judgments 
of value, there would have been no science." Whitehead, The Aims of 
Education (Macmillan: New York, 1938), pp. 228-29. 

13. What contemporary relativism leads to is well described by Arthur 
Child in Ethics, Vol. LVIII (July, 1948), No. 4, p. 319. "Some anthro- 
pologists. . . claim to have learned from their science and proclaim to 
their students with the authority of Science that no society ... is 
better than another but is only preferred by some people over another, 
or that there is no reason a widow should not be burnt alive on her 

Modern Man in Search of the Absolute 25 

husband's funeral pyre, provided she lives in a society which practices 
and approves this treatment. Whether in class these anthropologists draw 
out the further consequences of their teachings, I do not know, but their 
students will draw some will conclude, say, that the United States is 
no better than Nazi Germany but only happens to be preferred by our- 
selves; that there is no reason Hitler should not have murdered six 
million Jews except as the murders may have led to unpleasant results 
for himself, although of course the murders do happen to offend our 
own sentiments. . . ." 



The burden of the earlier chapters has been to indicate "what man 
has made of man," what modern man has made of himself and the 
conditions of his existence. The account, however summarily put, 
adds up to a fundamental criticism of modernity. 

In his effort to refashion himself and the world in autonomous 
terms, modern man has disrupted the age-old continuities of life 
religion, the family, the community and has reduced the individual 
to a forlorn, fragmentary existence in which he is no more than an 
insignificant cell in the vast impersonal organism of society. 1 He has 
drained the universe of value and thus deprived himself of all possi- 
bility of finding a secure anchorage in reality for the ideas and pur- 
poses that constitute significant human life. He has maneuvered him- 
self into a position where the basic and irreducible realities of human 
existence will, personality, freedom simply make no sense in his 
philosophy. In short, modern man no longer possesses any unity or 
orientation in life. He stands lost, bewildered, unable to understand 
himself or to master the forces of his inner and outer life. Despair- 
ingly, he confronts a universe that is bleak, empty and hostile: "a 
stranger and afraid, in a world [he] never made." 

But life without orientation, existence without unity or meaning, 
is ultimately impossible, and so modern man strives desperately to 
relate himself to some overall principle or power that promises to 

26 Judaism and Modern Man 

provide spiritual security and yet not violate the basic presuppositions 
of his thought. This enterprise cannot prove successful; it is doomed 
to failure precisely because it refuses to make the basic challenge to 
modern culture, and in its failure it but deepens the spiritual crisis 
it cannot allay. 

Many are the ways in which men endeavor to achieve the unity 
and meaning they must have in order to live. They may identify 
themselves with some larger whole such as nation, class or race 
and, by absolutizing that, strive to give universal validity to their 
fragmentary lives. Or they may place their faith in some man or 
movement to relieve them of the increasingly intolerable burden of 
existence. Or again they may see the promise of deliverance in some 
doctrine or idea that somehow holds out the hope of fulfilment with- 
out seriously calling into question current prepossessions and preju- 
dices. Perhaps the most influential of contemporary faiths cherished 
by modern man are those that look to science, psychoanalysis and 
Marxism for salvation. 

The science to which men of today look with such hope is not 
science as a theoretical system but science as a wonder-working tech- 
nology, the science that has given mankind the airplane, the radio, 
penicillin and the atom bomb. It is this science that, in the fervid 
imagination of its publicity men and devotees, promises to usher in 
the "world of tomorrow" in which all the tasks of life will be per- 
formed by their appropriate devices and man left free to fill his vacu- 
ous existence with mechanized entertainment. The Utopia displayed 
so luxuriously in the advertising pages of the "slick" magazines may 
seem too stupid for criticism, but let us not forget that it is but the 
logical culmination of the view of life that underlies the modern out- 
look and constitutes the dominant motif in contemporary culture 
the conception of the good life as simply and solely a life of carefree 
ease amidst material plenty. It is this conception which has led us 
to exalt large-scale industrialism and to accept as normal the thing- 
centered, gadget-ridden culture in which we live. 

The idolization of scientific technology, which pervades so much 
of our thinking, has deeper roots than we know or imagine. It has 
been noted more than once that in the lower recesses of the mind 

Modern Man in Search of the Absolute 27 

yes, of the "modern" mind the laboratory scientist takes on the 
shape of the archetypal wizard or miracle man who has at his dis- 
posal the magical means of solving our problems and relieving us of 
all the difficulties of life. This unconscious imagery, compounded 
with the popular philosophy of scientism, to which reference was 
made in the last chapter, expresses itself on the conscious level in an 
attitude that regards all problems of life to be, at bottom, merely 
technical problems capable of solution simply by the application of 
"scientific method." That ends and values lie in a realm beyond posi- 
tive science, whose usefulness is limited to devising means for ends 
already established, and that therefore the fundamental problems of 
life are in their very nature incapable of scientific solution, is some- 
thing that seems to be utterly incomprehensible, as much to the 
modern-minded pragmatist philosopher as to the modern-minded 
votary of the prefabricated life. 

The cult of science is obviously a delusion. It means more of the 
same thing that has driven mankind into the ghastly predicament in 
which it finds itself today: further depersonalization, further atom- 
ization, further spread of mass standardization, further stultification 
of man's aspirations toward a worthy and significant existence. Sci- 
ence may prove an invaluable servant, but when it turns master and 
savior, it inevitably becomes a brainless mechanical monster, imperil- 
ing life. 

Marxism not so much the thinking of Karl Marx as the doctrine 
that has passed into Marxist tradition has had a pervasive influence 
on the Western world. For all its "scientific" pretensions, its appeal 
has been almost entirely religious: it has offered modern man an ab- 
solutist faiih, a world-view in which the cosmic force of the Dialectic 
is seen as realizing the ends and sustaining the values that give mean- 
ing to life. To the believer who, through his belief, aligns himself 
with the "movement of History," it grants the feeling of security and 
self-esteem that comes from identification with omnipotent power as 
well as the confidence that is the result of the assurance of ultimate 
victory. In this sense, Marxism is one of the most potent religions 
of modern times. 

But it is a religion that has failed most disastrously. The events 

28 Judaism and Modern Man 

of the past thirty years have shown that it is sheer folly to look to 
history, in whatever form, for the solution of our problems. History 
cannot solve our problems; history is itself the problem. The faith 
that has counted on the indwelling Dialectic to bring salvation has 
proved utterly delusive: man, whom it was to liberate and exalt, it 
has ended by dehumanizing; the human values it was designed to 
realize and sustain, it has ended by destroying. We need not identify 
Marxism with the distorted antihumanistic form it has assumed in 
Soviet Russia to realize the truth of this statement. 

The failure of Marxism is directly due to the fact that it has proved 
incapable of transcending the limitations of the bourgeois culture to 
which it is ostensibly so uncompromisingly opposed. Its criticism 
of the bourgeois outlook is by no means radical; in fact, it shares 
some of the most characteristic presuppositions of "modern-minded- 
ness." It may bitterly excoriate the more obvious excesses of con- 
temporary society, but in its fundamental view of life it differs little 
from its "class enemy." The glories which the naive "bourgeois 
liberal" sees as the gift of present-day industrialism, Marxism simply 
postpones to the "new social order" on the other side of the Revolu- 
tion: the same externality, the same worship of technology, the same 
conception of the good life as a life of effortless ease in a machine- 
run paradise. 

Uncritically Marxism takes over the cultural outlook of bourgeois 
civilization; uncritically, too, it absolutizes the socialist society that 
comes with the Revolution. This absolutization of what is, after all, 
the work of man's hands is reinforced by the sociological relativism 
of values that lies close to the heart of the Marxist philosophy and 
leads to the double conclusion that right and wrong, good and evil, 
are determined by the "interests of the proletariat" and that every- 
thing literally everything is permitted if it is necessary for the 
victory of socialism. The attrition of all moral standards and the 
utterly shameless exaltation of power to which this has led are 

The chief defect of Marxism and scientism from the point of view 
of the modern mind which has gained some sophistication from con- 
temporary experience is their externality. They both see man from 

Modern Man in Search of the Absolute 29 

the outside and seem utterly incapable of penetrating to what is within. 
Here is where psychoanalysis makes its chief appeal as a truly modern 
vehicle of salvation not so much the psychoanalysis of Freud and 
other explorers of the deepest recesses of the human psyche as the 
psychoanalysis of the swarm of cult-priests and panacea-mongers 
spawned out of the troubles of our age. Where the scientist is the 
wizard and the revolutionary leader the redeemer in the mass imagina- 
tion, the popular psychologist is the priest and father-confessor of 
our time. It is he who promises to give us "peace of mind," to relieve 
us of our anxieties, guilts and insecurities, to "adjust" us to our envi- 
ronment and to convey us into the blissful heaven of normality. He, 
it seems, is certainly in possession of the magic formula. 

Precisely because of the potency of the genuine article, this kind 
of quackery has proved one of the most delusive and dangerous of 
the substitute faiths of our time. The "peace of mind" it seeks to 
achieve is not the "peace that passeth understanding" which no 
practitioner can give but the "peace" that comes from the dulling 
of the conscience, the blunting of moral sensitivity and the shameless 
encouragement of an almost lascivious preoccupation with self. It 
reduces all of man's problems to problems of "mental hygiene" and 
then proceeds to solve them as if they were so many problems of bed- 
wetting or thumb-sucking. 

The "peace of mind" therapy that constitutes the cult of popular 
psychoanalysis is essentially an effort to extinguish the anxiety, the 
restlessness, the disquiet, that is the heritage of man as a creature of 
freedom; it is therefore, at bottom, an effort to dehumanize man and 
reduce his life to the level of subhuman creation which knows neither 
sin nor guilt. The poet's outburst "I am sick and tired of all these 
humans with their eternal whining about conscience and sin; I am 
going out to the cattle in the barn" just about expresses the way it 
looks at man and his problems. 

This type of popular psychoanalysis does not see that behind 
and beyond the particular empirical disquiets and anxieties of life, 
which it is indeed the business of genuine psychoanalysis to relieve, 
there is the metaphysical, the existential anxiety that is the mark of 
man's paradoxical status in the universe. It does not see that while 
morbid guilt feelings are an ailment to be removed, "total lack of a 

30 Judaism and Modern Man 

sense of guilt is a disease which would necessarily make man a 
beast." 2 It does not see that while neuroses are illnesses requiring 
medical treatment, without "maladjusted" personalities at odds with 
their environment there would be no civilization or culture. 8 It does 
not see that while inner harmony is always a possibility for one who 
has succeeded in making his peace with God, the "inner harmony" 
that can be achieved through psychological devices is no more than 
a delusion born out of, and serving to inflate, one's smugness and self- 
complacency. It does not see that the human predicament the 
malady of life far transcends the medical. 

Psychoanalysis even the authentic kind, not to speak of the 
popular cult of "peace of mind" has no salvation to offer modern 
man. It can provide no genuine unity, no lasting security, to his life. 
It cannot really relieve him of his burden of anxiety or save him from 
the discord and chaos that imperil his existence. It cannot do this 
because, for all its insight, it operates on too superficial a level of 
human life. Its naturalistic presuppositions prevent it from plumbing 
the full depth or comprehending the full significance of the spiritual 
dimension of personality. Its inwardness is not true inwardness, for 
it cannot penetrate to the inner core of human existence. It is after 
all restricted to the naturalistic level of science, while man, though 
rooted in nature, is human precisely because he transcends the natural 
conditions of existence. Like scientific technology, psychoanalysis 
has its undoubted utility for human life as an instrument of analysis 
and as a therapeutic device. But again like scientific technology, it 
can never be more than means; when it pretends to define ends or 
show the way to salvation, it too becomes a snare and a delusion. 

Science, Marxism, psychoanalysis, along with the currently dis- 
credited cults of nationalism and racism, are as ways of salvation 
all attempts to erect "systems of thought and belief [as] comforting 
little houses to shelter the mind of man from the great winds that blow 
between worlds and the cold darkness of outer space." 4 As such 
they have all proved failures, and there are hardier spirits who are not 
afraid to admit this failure and to face the fact that such systems are 
not to be erected by the hand of man. And yet such is the complexity 
of the human spirit and its unquenchable thirst for what is beyond 

Modern Man in Search of the Absolute 31 

that this very abjuration of the quest for security is itself transformed 
into a "comforting little house" outfitted with all the latest devices 
for protection against the "cold darkness of outer space." This is the 
significance of contemporary "atheistic" existentialism. In this type 
of existentialism which, despite the common name and a certain 
resemblance of ideas, is radically different from the religious ex- 
istentialism of a Kierkegaard or a Buber in this type of existentialism, 
the forlornness and despair of existence are strangely transmuted into 
a kind of self-satisfied, rather cozy, defiance of the universe. "Man," 
we are told, "is forlorn because neither within him nor without does 
he find anything to cling to." 5 But is he really forlorn, really without 
support? Has he really renounced all gods, all absolutes? Well, not 
quite. "To be a man," says Sartre, "means to try to be God." "Hu- 
man reality is a pure effort to become God, to become ens causa 
sui"* And so this sober, self-possessed disillusionment culminates 
in the most monstrous illusion of all in man's deification of himself! 

Can we deny that much the same is the outcome of Bertrand Rus- 
sell's magnificent manifesto, "A Free Man's Worship"? Despite its 
fine sensitivity, despite its subtle assimilation of some of the deepest 
insights of authentic religion, this, too, manages to convert a bleak, 
proud stoicism into an idolatrous cult. 7 Its "atheism," its renuncia- 
tion of all gods, turns out, after all, to be no more than clearing the 
ground for the deification of man and the absolutization of his cre- 
ative spirit. It is a desperate measure, but it is not any the more 
effective in breaking through the impasse: even the flattery of self- 
deification cannot forever seduce the human spirit; there are moments 
when man, looking within, knows that he is the last thing on earth 
worthy of worship. The gospel of nihilism even when it is called 
existentialism leads nowhere. 

The substitute faiths of our time are failures, and a failure, too, 
is the attempt to do without absolutes, without "anything to cling to 
within or without." What then? 

32 Judaism and Modern Man 


1. Cf. Martin Buber, "What is Man," Between Man and Man (Kegan 
Paul: London, 1947), pp 157-58. 

2. F. Wittels, Freud and His Time (Liveright: New York, 1931), p. 343. 
"There is nothing more profoundly human than the sense of guilt; 

nothing in which the lost image of God manifests its presence more 
clearly." Emil Brunner, Man in Revolt (Westminster: Philadelphia, 
1947), p. 178. 

3. "Those [neurotic personalities] who do not [develop neuroses] are 
the chief contributors to the advance of civilization. In fact, one might 
say that the neurotic personalities contribute to the advance of civiliza- 
tion at the expense of their own peace of mind. . . . Civilization itself 
is a neurotic product." Karl Menninger, The Human Mind (Garden 
City: Garden City, N.Y., 1930), pp. 116-17. See also Freud, Civilization 
and its Discontents (Hogarth: London, 1930). 

4. Ralph Linton, address at Herald Tribune Forum, New York Herald 
Tribune, October 26, 1947. 

5. Cf. Ralph Harper, Existentialism (Harvard University: Cambridge, 
Mass., 1948), p. 102. 

6. Harper, op. cit., p. 104; Jean-Paul Sartre, Uetre et le neant (Galli- 
mard: Paris, 1943) p. 655. 

7. "Man creates God, all-powerful and all-good. ... In this lies Man's 
true freedom: in the determination to worship only the God created by 
our own love of the good, to respect only the heaven which inspires the 
insight of our best moments. . . We must build a temple for the worship 
of our own ideals. ... In this way, Man's mind asserts its subtle mastery 
over the thoughtless forces of Nature." Bertrand Russell, "A Free Man's 
Worship," Mysticism and Logic (Norton: New York, 1929), pp. 49-53. 


Man's existential predicament, which it has been my purpose to 
describe, assumes many shapes, but in the last analysis it all comes 
down to the fundamental fact that the attempt to comprehend life 
in its own terms, to live it in and for itself, must necessarily prove 

Modern Man in Search of the Absolute 33 

destructive. It must prove destructive intellectually, reducing life to 
unreality and contradiction. It must prove destructive morally, un- 
dermining the very presuppositions of the moral life freedom and 
responsibility. It must prove destructive in our individual and col- 
lective enterprises, for it leads inexorably to dilemmas which it gives 
us no power to meet or overcome. On every level, existence is 
threatened with dissolution. Unity and meaning are utterly impossible 
to achieve because, simply within the natural conditions of life, there 
is no center about which life may be securely built and a stable struc- 
ture of meaning established. In the endless flux of relativity which 
confronts modern man as the ultimate reality, no fixed center can be 
found; yet without some secure anchorage in the absolute, every- 
thing relativity itself must collapse into nothingness. Life, if only 
to save itself, must find fulfilment in something beyond, in something 
more than life. 

To live a human life, men must have grounding in something, "in 
some sense outside of human life, ... [in] some end which is im- 
personal and above mankind, such as God or truth or beauty." 1 These 
words are from Bertrand Russell, whose hostility to traditional re- 
ligion has never entirely obscured his deep sense of man's existential 

In order to promote life [Russell goes on] it is necessary to 
value something more than mere life. Life devoted to life is. . . 
without real human value, incapable of preserving men perm- 
anently from weariness and the feeling that all is vanity. . . 
Those who best promote life do not have life for their purpose. 

But having posed the problem in all its urgency, Russell has no 
better suggestion to offer than that men find their strength and sup- 
port, the meaning of their life, through contact with an "eternal 
world" of their own imagining! Surely it must have occured to Rus- 
sell himself that this heroic effort at make-believe salvation could 
not possibly succeed: men cannot find fulfilment by worshiping a god 
they know they have themselves constructed, even though the ma- 
terials going into the making of the idol be the very highest ideals 
humanity has achieved. Even such ideals are the ideals of men, of 
men of flesh and blood, and are therefore hopelessly infected with 
relativity; they neither deserve nor can stand absolutization. None 

34 Judaism and Modern Man 

of them, not even "truth" or "beauty" or a "god" thought up for the 
purpose, can really take us out of our own life with all its fragmen- 
tariness and ambiguity; none of them, therefore, can provide us 
with the anchorage in the absolute without which there is no mean- 
ingful existence. More; the very attempt to attribute absolute signifi- 
cance to powers, institutions or ideals that, however excellent, are 
after all not absolute, results in the corruption of their excellence and 
their transformation into forces of destruction. Idols, we have it on 
good authority, are not merely hollow frauds; they are havoc-work- 
ing demons and all of recent history is there to prove it. 

The full depth of the contemporary crisis is measured by the fact 
that all of our idols our own splendid ones as well as the hideous 
ones of the enemy have been weighed and found wanting; they have 
all been exposed in their utter vacuity and destructiveness. It is no 
longer possible for us who have learned the lesson of our generation 
to deceive ourselves. The props of existence that served in other 
days have collapsed. We stand at the brink of the abyss with all our 
supports swept away. Science, History, Culture, Economic Progress, 
Socialism yes, even conventional ethics and religion how vain and 
powerless they have shown themselves to be amidst the cataclysms 
of our time! Who can look to them for deliverance today? The con- 
clusion is inescapable: only by breaking through and transcending 
the natural limitations of life, only on the other side of the abyss, can 
the Absolute which is the eternal ground of existence be reached. 
Against the relentless drive toward chaos that forms the dynamic of 
autonomous human life, the miserable idols we have erected, the 
false absolutes we have exalted, are utterly helpless. Nothing in this 
world can save us; nothing within life can sustain life. Only from 
what is beyond life, only from the transcendant source of life, can 
come the power to deliver us from our desperate plight. In more 
traditional language, only the God whom we know to be the Creator 
of heaven and earth, the Lord of life and history, can help us. 

We must break through the natural limitations of life and establish 
vital contact with what is beyond. But how? How shall we cross 
the abyss? Not by the power of science or abstract-objective thought, 
certainly. The efforts of contemporary scientists to "prove" that God 
is to be inferred from the course of organic evolution or the 'strange 

Modern Man in Search of the Absolute 35 

phenomena of subatomic physics is on a par with the efforts of the 
older philosophers to deduce God from the nature of pure being or 
the requirement of cosmology. These "proofs" are dubious at best, 2 
but even if they were to succeed in making their case, it would be a 
case irrelevant to our purpose. For what such arguments, granting 
them all they claim, prove is no more than the probable validity of 
some ultimate metaphysical principle a Principle of Perfection, a 
First Cause, an Unmoved Mover, a Demiurgic Power, Pure-Thought- 
Thinking-Itself ; in any case, nothing of any vital significance to man 
in his existential crisis. If the word "God" is to have any relevance 
to our problem, we must recognize that God is not a "something" 
the existence of which can be established by the simple expedient of 
pushing scientific investigation or metaphysical speculation just a bit 
further. The very attempt to do so is a mistaken and delusive enter- 
prise, for, at bottom, it treats God as just another object in the world 
of objects, not as the transcendant Subject who cannot be encompassed 
within the material of reason and experience. Very much the same 
may be said of the attempt to "deduce" God from history or the inner 
depths of the human consciousness, in which, after all, are mirrored 
our own confusions and limitations. God creates and sustains nature; 
God works in and through history; in the human mind we come upon 
something that points beyond itself to the dimension of God but all 
this is visible only to the eyes of those who have already found and 
affirmed the God of faith. "God cannot," Buber concludes, "be in- 
ferred in anything in nature, say, as its author, or in history as its 
master, or in the subject as the self that is thought in it. Something 
else is not 'given' and God then elicited from it." 3 That is not the way. 
Nor is the way, however promising at first sight it may seem, that 
of mysticism. Mysticism offers us a doctrine and a technique for 
penetrating the "curtain" of finiteness and achieving identification 
with the Infinite. This self-deification for what is identification with 
the Infinite but self-deification? is purchased at a heavy price, the 
price of self-annihilation, of the extinction of life and personality in 
some vast, formless, impersonal All-Soul. Mysticism begins and ends 
in a "colossal illusion of the human spirit." 4 Whatever may be the 
"absolute" reached through mysticism, it is not the God who gives 
life and sustains personal existence. 

36 Judaism and Modern Man 

No; neither science nor abstract reason nor mysticism can help us 
cross the abyss. The abyss can be crossed in one way and in one 
way only by the "leap of faith." It is a leap beyond experience, 
beyond science, beyond objective logic. Experience, science, phil- 
osophy can bring us to the edge of the precipice and point beyond; 
they cannot help us cross: only the decision of faith can do that. 

The decision of faith is beyond the abstract reason of science and 
philosophy because this latter type of reason, however adequate for 
dealing with the world of objects, is simply not capable of penetrating 
to the inner core of existence. For this purpose the only thinking 
that will serve is the thinking which is not content with the disin- 
terested judgment of a spectator but insists on the total commitment 
of the personality; the thinking that is inward and concrete rather than 
outward and abstract, concerned rather than detached; the thinking 
that seeks not to discover external facts or to establish universal truths 
but to "make sense" of existence. This is the thinking that has come 
to be known as existential^ it is a logic of choice, of decision, of com- 
mitment. "The man who thinks existentially," says Buber, follow- 
ing Kierkegaard, "[is] the man who stakes his life on his thinking." 5 
And Franz Rosenzweig expands the conception of the "new think- 
ing" in these words: 6 

From those unimportant truths of the type "twice two equal 
four," to which men lightly assent with the expenditure of no 
more than a trifle mind energy a little less for the ordinary 
multiplication table, a little more for the theory of relativity 
the way leads to the truths for which a man is willing to pay 
something, on to those which he cannot prove true except with 
the sacrifice of his life, and finally to those the truth of which 
can be proved only by staking the lives of all the generations. 

This is the kind of thinking that can provide a grounding for the 
decision that is the "leap of faith." 

But let us be clear as to what this decision really involves. It does 
not involve an option between placing one's faith in something beyond 
empirical or rational "proof" and in refusing to do so; it is not, in 
a general sense, a choice between faith and no-faith. Man cannot 
live without placing his faith in something as the source of the mean- 
ing and value of his existence, in something that for him is absolute, 

Modern Man in Search of the Absolute 37 

ultimate; in something that he "loves," according to the profound 
Scriptural formula, "with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his 
might" and that "something" can never be justified in terms of fact 
or reason. 7 Every man, therefore, has his faith, whether he recog- 
nizes it or not, whether he avows it or not; the beliefs which a man 
really holds, it is well to remember, are not necessarily those he af- 
firms with his mouth but those that are operative in his life. 8 The real 
decision is thus not between faith and no-faith but between faith in 
some false absolute, in some man-made idol the construction of our 
hands or heart or mind and faith in the true Absolute, in the tran- 
scendent God. This is the decision, and it is a decision that wrenches 
man's whole being. For it means a decision once and for all to 
abandon all efforts to find the center of existence within one's self, 
a decision to commit oneself to God without qualification or reserva- 
tion. It is not easy for us to abandon confidence in self, in ourselves, 
in our ideas and enterprises; it comes only after a desperate inner 
struggle in which the victory is never final. That is why the decision 
of faith is not merely an intellectual judgment but a total personal 
commitment reaching down to the foundations of existence. 

It has often been charged, from Feuerbach to Freud, that such 
faith is mere "wish-fulfilment" and therefore rationally untenable. In 
its crude sense, this criticism falls obviously wide of the mark. For 
the authentic decision of faith is not something that is pleasant to 
natural man or flattering to his ego; on the contrary, it challenges the 
self in all its claims and voids it of all its pretensions. In that sense, 
therefore, it is the very opposite of "wish-fulfilment." Yet the charge 
of wishful thinking is sometimes intended to go deeper. Religious 
thinking is rejected because it is held to be based on presuppositions 
themselves not susceptible to empirical verification or rational proof. 
On this level, too, the rationalist criticism is misconceived. For all 
thinking, not to say all life, is grounded in unproved postulates that 
may well be condemned as "wish-fulfilments." Presuppositionless 
thinking is impossible. The affirmation of an external world beyond 
sense impressions is surely something upon which all science, formal 
and informal, depends and yet this affirmation is reached not by 
reasoning but by a kind of "will-to-believe." It is, indeed, as Bertrand 
Russell points out, not even "susceptible to argument." 9 In exactly 

38 Judaism and Modern Man 

the same way, according to Whitehead, "there can be no science un- 
less there is an instinctive conviction in the existence of an order of 
things and, in particular, of an order of nature. . . This faith in the 
order of nature cannot be justified by any inductive generalization;" 10 
it is again a salto mortale of reason, a decision of the "will-to-believe." 
From fact to value requires another "leap"; that gulf, too, cannot be 
bridged by reason or science. Even reasoning itself is ultimately 
groundless, for obviously "the laws of reasoning cannot themselves 
be established by reasoning, they must be intuitively perceived to be 
true." 11 

This kind of "will-to-believe" is the dynamic factor in every enter- 
prise of the human spirit: it must be there before reason can begin 
operating or experience make sense; it must be there to bridge the 
inevitable gaps left by reason and experience; and it must be there to 
carry the mind beyond their limits. Of course, we may in words pre- 
tend to withhold assent and declare any and every nonempirical af- 
firmation to be a mere "wish-fulfilment." But such skepticism can 
never be more than merely verbal. 12 "All knowledge," so good a 
skeptic as Bertrand Russell assures us "must be built on our intuitive 
beliefs; if they are rejected, nothing is left." 13 Whether we employ 
the intuitionist terminology 01 not and I myself do not find it very 
useful the conclusion is the same: an antecedent postulation is 
necessary before we can begin thinking or acting in any sphere of 
reality, and the volitional form of such postulation is plainly the "will- 

In all of the cases I have mentioned, the affirmation of faith, as it 
may be called, is related only to a particular area and is meant to 
meet merely a particular need. But the affirmation of faith demanded 
in religion is something different and something more, infinitely more: 
it is a total commitment, relating to and underlying all of existence. 
On the ultimate question of icligion, the agnostic withholding of be- 
lief is thus even more obviously impossible. In the totality of existence, 
something must be affirmed as ultimate; some primary commitment 
must be made; some attitude to the universe must be taken; some 
answer to the question of existence must be given and whatever it 
may be, it cannot in the nature of the case be susceptible to rational 
proof or scientific verification. Whatever we may say, we affirm an 

Modern Man in Search of the Absolute 39 

external world and an order of nature whenever we engage in action 
or indulge in expectation. Whatever we may say, we affirm some sys- 
tem of values whenever we make conscious choice among alternatives. 
Whatever we say, there is something that we take as our absolute, as 
our anchorage in reality, as our "god." The only question but it is 
a great, decisive, shattering question is: What shall we acknowledge 
as absolute some man-made god, in fact ourselves writ large, or 
the God beyond the abyss, the God who is Lord of all? This is the 
decision which each of us must make every moment of our lives. Try- 
ing to avoid the necessity of choice through an impossible agnosticism 
simply means to have the choice made for us below the level of vital 
personal decision. Feuerbach's skepticism did not keep him from a 
gross idolatry of Man, nor did Freud's keen insight into the mechanism 
of rationalization and "wish-fulfilment" save him from the incredible 
banalities of nineteenth-century science-worship that we find in The 
Future of an Illusion. 

Shall we then say, in the language of the philosophers, that we 
"postulate" God? Only in the sense that "[we] need God in order 
to be." 14 In other words, it is not so much that God is a "postu- 
late" this again would make God into an object but that the "postu- 
lation," the affirmation, of God is an existential necessity. 

This affirmation the "leap of faith" that springs out of the decision 
for God is not a leap of despair but rather a leap in triumph over 
despair. It is a leap made not in order to search blindly for an un- 
known God somewhere on the other side; it is a leap that is made 
because wonderfully enough God has already been found. Faith 
is risk, venture, decision: 15 so it is for us while we are still on this 
side of the abyss. We must dare the leap if the gulf is ever to be 
crossed; but once the decision of faith has been made, it is seen that 
the leap was possible only because the gulf had already been bridged 
for us from the other side. 16 The reality of the decision remains, but 
we now see that what we had to decide was whether or not to accept 
the outstretched hand offered us over the abyss as we stood bewildered, 
anxious and despairing at the brink. 

The existential achievement of faith is never secure. Faith is not 
a particular psychological goal, intellectual or emotional, which, once 

40 Judaism and Modern Man 

attained, may be expected to remain a permanent acquisition. Faith 
is a never-ending battle against self-absolutization and idolatry; it is 
a battle which has to be refought every moment of life because it is 
a battle in which the victory can never be final. But although never 
final, victory is always possible, for the outstretched hand over the 
abyss is always there for us to take hold of. The resources of divine 
grace are always available in the spontaneity of faith. 

Faith is not mere "feeling"; nor is it intellectual assent to a creed. 
It is orientation of the whole man; it is a total existential commit- 
ment that brings with it a new way of seeing things, new perspectives 
and categories in the confrontation of reality. Through faith, existence 
is transposed into a new key. Everything the universe, man, human 
life is transfigured. Even faith itself takes on new meaning: our 
attitude to God, as Buber has well noted, 17 is something very different 
from our relation to the "finite goods" we idolize. The idol even 
if it be an exalted idea or a noble cause is always an object, some- 
thing to be "enjoyed" or used; God if it is the true God we affirm 
is always the eternal Subject beyond human possession or employ- 
ment. Our way of worship is different: "It is blasphemy when a man 
wishes, after the idol has crashed behind the altar, to pile up an un- 
holy sacrifice to God on the desecrated place. . .[Man] cannot serve 
two masters not even one after the other; he must first learn to serve 
in a different way." 18 

In the transcendent perspective of faith, the entire universe is trans- 
formed. All the existential problems of life assume a new aspect. The 
world is no longer empty and God-forsaken; it has found its Creator 
and Sustainer. Human personality acquires a secure grounding in the 
eternal Person that is ultimate reality. Freedom and responsibility 
take on vital meaning. Life acquires unity, direction, significance. 
All the problems of life are not, of course, automatically solved; in- 
deed, many of them now for the first time reveal their depth and 
poignancy. But through faith we gain access to spiritual resources 
for dealing with life. And life itself emerges as something very differ- 
ent when seen under the aspect of eternity, in the perspective of a 
transcendent goal and fulfilment beyond all relativity. 

For those who possess it or rather for those whom it possesses 
faith is a force, an energy. When we abandon our fatal pretension 

Modern Man in Search of the Absolute 41 

to autonomy, to being a law unto ourselves, and face God in the self- 
emptying of true humility, we gain a new strength, a new sense of 
power, that we know is not ours but comes from beyond. It is this 
power that sustains and carries us through the darkness into the light. 
The affirmation of faith is existential in its dynamic: it emerges out 
of the crisis of existence, which is always a crisis of the "now." Yet 
this affirmation of faith is also something historical, for it has no reality 
or meaning apart from the tradition through which it reaches the in- 
dividual. The structure of faith in its dimensions of thought, feeling 
and action is historically given in terms of actual religion. To under- 
stand a faith means to understand this historical structure. It is, there- 
fore, my purpose at this point to attempt to describe the Jewish struc- 
ture of faith and to relate it to the various phases of the human 


1. Bertrand Russell, Principles of Social Reconstruction (Allen and 
Unwin: London, 1916), p. 245. 

"The nature of man as a conscious creature" is such, Professor Carl 
Becker tells us, that he "finds existence intolerable unless he can enlarge 
and enrich his otherwise futile activities by relating them to something 
more enduring and significant than himself. Encyclopedia of Social Sci- 
ences, p. 495b. 

2. Hume's argument showing the dubiousness of all such "proofs" and 
Kant's brilliant demonstration of their inherent fallacy may still be read 
with great profit by anyone seriously concerned with religious thinking. 
In this sense, modern logical positivism has also performed a useful serv- 
ice by showing what science and scientific reason really are; this must 
be recognized even though the logical positivists, by absolutizing science 
and empirical thinking, in effect destroy the critical power of their own 

3. Martin Buber, / and Thou (T. & T. Clark: Edinburgh, 1937), p. 80. 
"Obviously that which is acknowledged to be superior to Nature cannot 

be proved to exist in the way existence is proved or disproved in Nature. 
Could it be, it would cease to be supernatural. Its existence must be 
supernatural existence. . . ." F. J. E. Woodbridge, An Essay on Nature 
(Columbia University Press: New York, 1940), p. 306. 

42 Judaism and Modern Man 

4. Buber, ibid., p. 93. See also Buber's comments on mysticism in Be- 
tween Man and Man (Kegan Paul: London, 1947), pp. 24, 25, 43, par- 
ticularly significant in view of his own earlier leanings in that direction: 
"From my own unforgettable experience I know well. . . ." (p. 24). 

5. Buber, "The Question to the Single One," Between Man and Man, 
p. 81. 

6. Franz Rosenzweig, "Das neue Denken," Kleinere Schriften (Schocken: 
Berlin, 1937), pp. 395-96. See also Jacob Agus, Modern Philosophies of 
Judaism (Behrman's* New York, 1941), chap, iii, "Franz Rosenzweig"; 
and Will Herberg, "Franz Rosenzweig's * Judaism of Personal Existence'," 
Commentary, Vol. X (December, 1950), No. 6. 

The "naturalist" philosopher, F. J. E. Woodbndge, expresses a strikingly 
similar thought: "Knowledge which would give us security. . .must not 
be like physics, biology or history. . . .The desired knowledge requires 
a light which would reveal something totally different, something that 
would satisfy personality instead of cognitive curiosity" (op. cit. t p. 279). 

7. If only because no logical inference from scientific fact to value is 
possible, as indicated in chapter 7, above. 

In his remarkable Essay on Nature, to which reference has been made, F. 
J. E. Woodbridge emphasizes that such "ultimates," often called "ideals," 
"are not ideas of anything disclosed in Nature's history, nor does she 
forecast their realization" (p. 336). He also indicates that in this usage 
" 'the ideal' is an alternative word for 'the supernatural' " and deplores the 
"word-phobia" that prefers the former term to the latter, despite its many 

8. "The beliefs that are implied by his actions are the beliefs which a 
man really holds. The beliefs that are implied by the actions that he 
cannot avoid are the beliefs which a man must hold". Eli Karlin, "The 
Nature of the Individual," Review of Metaphysics, Vol. I (December, 
1947), No. 2, p. 84. 

9. Russell, "A Reply to My Critics," The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell, 
ed. by Paul Schilpp (Northwestern University: Chicago, 1944), p. 719. 

10. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, pp. 5, 27. 

11. C. E. M. Joad, Guide to Philosophy (Dover: New York, 1936), p. 

12. Such "insincere skepticism" is what Russell calls "professing dis- 
beliefs we are in fact incapable of entertaining." The Philosophy of Ber- 
trand Russell, p. 683. 

13. Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (Holt: New York, 1912), p. 39. 
"All our reasoning reduces itself to yielding to feeling." Paschal, 

Penstes, No. 274. 

14. Buber, / and Thou, p. 82. 

15. "Faith is ... the venture pure and simple." Buber, "What Shall We 

Modern Man in Search of the Absolute 43 

Do About the Ten Commandments?" Israel and the World (Schocken: 
New York, 1948), p. 86. 

16. "The person who makes a decision knows that his deciding is no self- 
delusion; the person who has acted knows that he was and is in the hand 
of God." Ibid, p. 17. 

17. Buber, / and Thou, pp. 104-05. 

18. Ibid., pp. 105-06. 




An initial understanding of what the Jewish religious commitment 
really signifies as an attitude to life may perhaps best be obtained by 
comparing the Hebraic world-outlook with the outlook of the very 
different type of religion manifested in Greco-Oriental spirituality. 
This comparison is not arbitrary, nor is it merely conceived as an 
explanatory device. It really goes to the heart of the matter. For 
whatever may be thought of the so-called primitive religions, it seems 
to be the case that the higher religions of mankind fall into two main 
groups distinguished by widely different, often diametrically opposed 
preconceptions and attitudes. One group we may quite properly call 
Hebraic, for it includes Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The other 
group consists, as Moore points out, of "the soteric religions and phil- 
osophies of India and of Greece and the native and foreign mysteries 
of the Hellenistic-Roman world." 1 Perhaps the most appropriate 
designation for this type would be Greco-Oriental; Buddhism and 
Yoga are its best-known modern representatives. 

It is not suggested that these religious types are manifested in 
pure form in any existing empirical religion; every existing religion 
would probably show, in its doctrine and practice, a varying mixture 
of elements stemming from both sources. But it is maintained that 
normative Judaism through the centuries has remained remarkably 
close to its Hebraic center, and that its "essence" can best be under- 
stood from this point of view. A brief presentation of the nature 
of the Hebraic religious outlook, in contrast to the outlook we have 
called Greco-Oriental, will therefore serve as our point of departure 
for an account of the structure of faith in Judaism. 

Hebraic and Greco-Oriental religion, as religion, agree in affirming 
some Absolute Reality as ultimate, but they differ fundamentally in 


48 Judaism and Modern Man 

what they say about this reality. To Greco-Oriental thought, whether 
mystical or philosophic, the ultimate reality is some primal impersonal 
force. To call it God, as so many have done, would be misleading; 
it is more nearly "godness" than God, an all-engulfing divine quality, 
the ground and end of everything. Whether one names it Brahma 
or the All-Soul or Nature (as Spinoza does) or nothing at all (as is 
the way of many mystics) does not really matter; what is meant is 
very much the same in all cases some ineffable, immutable, impassive 
divine substance that pervades the universe or rather is the universe 
insofar as the latter is at all real. This, of course, is pantheism: the 
All is "God." Greco-Oriental religion, whatever its specific form, 
irresistibly tends towards a pantheistic position. 

Nothing could be further from normative Hebraic religion. To 
Hebraic religion, God is neither a metaphysical principle nor an im- 
personal force. God is a living Will, a "living, active Being. . .en- 
dowed with personality." 2 As against the Greco-Oriental conception 
of immanence, of divinity permeating all things and constituting their 
reality, Hebraic religion affirms God as a transcendent Person, who 
has indeed created the universe but who cannot without blasphemy 
be identified with it. Where Greco-Oriental thought sees continuity 
between God and the universe, Hebraic religion insists on discon- 
tinuity. "Hebrew religion," Frankfort declares, "rejects precisely this 
doctrine [that the divine is immanent in nature]. The absolute tran- 
scendence of God is the foundation of Hebrew religious thought. God 
is absolute, unqualified, transcending every phenomenon. . . . God is 
not in sun and stars, rain and wind; they are his creatures and 
serve him." 3 

This radical difference in the conception of God makes for an 
equally profound divergence in attitude to life and the world. Both 
Greco-Oriental and Hebraic religion draw some distinction between 
the Absolute Reality that they affirm as ultimate and the empirical 
world of everyday experience. To the Buddhist theologian, the Hindu 
mystic or the Platonic philosopher, the empirical world is illusion, an 
unreal, shifting flux of sensory deception: only the Absolute, which is 
beyond time and change, is real. Life and history are therefore es- 
sentially meaningless; as temporal processes, they are hopelessly in- 
fected with the irrational and the unreal. True knowledge saving 

God and Man 49 

knowledge consists in breaking through the "veil of illusion" of em- 
pirical life, in sweeping this shadow world aside, in order to obtain a 
glimpse of the unchanging reality which it hides. This is the way of 

To the Hebraic mind, on the other hand, the empirical world is 
real and significant, though not, of course, self-subsistent since it is 
ultimately dependent on God as Creator. Life and history, too, are 
real and meaningful, though again not in their own terms. As against 
Greco-Oriental otherworldliness, Hebraic religion strikes an unmis- 
takably fto-worldly note: this world, the world in which we pass our 
lives, the world in which history is enacted, the world of time and 
change and confusion, is the world in which the divine Will is operative 
and in which, however strange it may seem, man encounters God. 
Depreciation of this world in favor of some timeless world of pure 
being or essence is utterly out of line with the realistic temper of He- 
braism. 4 

Since man is of course in some sense part of the empirical world, 
one's fundamental attitude to the world will find reflection in the con- 
ception one has of man and his nature. The drift of Greco-Oriental 
thought is quite clear: it affirms a body-soul dualism according to 
which the body that is, matter is held to be the principle of evil, 
and the soul the mind or reason the principle of good. In the 
Platonic figure, the body is the "prison-house of the soul"; 5 as a result 
of its confinement in its carnal dungeon, the soul is confused and stu- 
pefied and dragged down into the mire of immorality. "For the 
Greeks," Moore writes, and what he says applies to all within the 
sphere of Greco-Oriental spirituality, "the soul is a fallen divinity . . . 
imprisoned in a material mortal body ... [In earthly life] the soul is 
subject to physical and moral defilement; the body is the tomb of the 
soul or its prison-house, its transient tabernacle, its vesture of flesh, 
its filthy garment." 6 Death, which releases the immortal soul, is 

However familiar and plausible this dualistic view may seem to 
many religious people today, it is nevertheless utterly contrary to the 
Hebraic outlook. In authentic Hebraism, man is not a compound of 
two "substances" but a dynamic unity. It is indeed necessary to dis- 
tinguish between the natural and the spiritual dimensions of human 

50 Judaism and Modern Man 

life, but this is not a distinction between body and soul, much less be- 
tween good and evil. The body, its impulses and passions, are not 
evil; as parts of God's creation, they are innocent and, when properly 
ordered, positively good. Nor, on the other hand, is human spirit the 
"fallen divinity" of the Greeks. Spirit is the source of both good and 
evil, for spirit is will, freedom, decision. It is impossible to imagine 
a more profound difference in orientation and outlook than is here 

Equally profound is the divergence between the two religious out- 
looks in their view of man's spiritual condition and need. They agree, 
of course, in finding men in this world to be lost, forlorn, sunk in evil 
from which they must be saved. But they are poles apart in their 
conception of the nature of the evil and the way of salvation. 

Greco-Oriental religion finds the evil besetting men to be error and 
illusion. Men are so bedazzled by the empirical world that they actu- 
ally take it for reality. They thus become involved in the world and 
attached to it; they develop cravings for its illusory "goods," thereby 
inviting pain and suffering. All the ills that afflict men are, in the view 
of Plato and the Buddha alike, the result of the benightedness that 
mistakes illusion for reality. 

Perhaps the most dangerous of the errors that bedevil mankind, in 
this view, is the notion of individuality. Individuality is born out of 
illusion since the separateness of one man from another is simply an 
aspect of the world of empirical unreality; in its turn, individuality 
generates craving and greed, a grasping after things, a clinging to per- 
sonality, which effectually blocks the hope of liberation from evil. 
"Individuality," Moore says, describing this type of religion, "is the 
gieat error, the cause of all man's ills ... The real self, mistakenly 
imagined to be individual, is identical with the All-Soul and the end 
of man's being is to realize this identity." 7 

When we approach the same problem through Hebraic eyes, we 
move in an entirely different universe. Man's personality is taken as 
the inexpugnable reality of his being; it is because man is a person that 
he can hear God's word and respond to it. Nor, as we have seen, is 
the world itself unreal. That is not the source of evil. The evil condi- 
tion, the lost state, from which man seeks salvation is, in the Hebraic 

God and Man 51 

view, his alienation from God. Man's proper condition is fellowship 
with God in faith and obedience. It is when man denies his faith and 
forgets his obedience, when he falls into egocentricity and self-absoluti- 
zation, that he brings disorder to his own soul and confusion to the 
world. This self-absolutization in rebellion against God is sin, a con- 
cept central to Hebraic religion but, in its proper sense, quite unknown 
to Greek and Eastern thought. 

We shall, of course, discuss in detail below this basic conception as 
well as the doctrine of salvation which it implies. But it may be said 
here that in Hebraic religion salvation for the individual consists es- 
sentially in repentance and reconciliation, in his abandoning his sin- 
ful pretensions and thankfully accepting the privilege of walking 
humbly with his God. Salvation is thus not the denial of personality 
but its enhancement through the power of personal communion in 
which all barriers of alienation are removed. 

To the Yogi, Buddhist or neo-Platonic philosopher, this goal must 
seem both fantastic and delusive. How can personal relationship be 
established with the Ultimate Reality when personality itself is unreal 
and illusory? And what sort of salvation would it be, even if it were 
possible, since it would leave man actively involved in the things of 
this world? No, to Greco-Oriental religion, salvation is first of all 
"nonattachment," the breaking of all ties with the world of desire and 
body and matter, the annihilation of personality and ultimately its dis- 
solution in the All-Soul as a drop of water is dissolved in the ocean. 
Only in the East, however, where there is no Hebraic heritage to re- 
strain it, has mystic religion gone that far; but even where it stops 
halfway and speaks of salvation as the "beatific vision" or the "vision 
of God" after death, the tendency toward flight from the world and 
personal self-annihilation through "nearness to God" is unmistakable. 8 

If the question were put to the Buddhist or Hindu: "What am I? 
What shall I do to be saved?" his answer would be: "You are a frag- 
ment of the All-Soul whose effort it must be to find its way back to 
the Divine Whole." But if the same question were asked of one who 
holds to the biblical standpoint, the answer would be very different 
indeed. Man is a person, so the answer would run, a dynamic center 
of action, yet at the same time a creature, brought into being to serve 

52 Judaism and Modern Man 

his Creator in faith and love and thus achieve his salvation. 9 In one 
case, salvation is from life and from the world; in the other, it is for 
life and for the world. 

There is still another radical distinction. For the Greek philosopher, 
as for the Hindu mystic, salvation is essentially self -salvation. "Primi- 
tive Buddhism and some other contemporary and cognate religions," 
Moore states, "acknowledge no power whose aid man can enlist to 
deliver him from the endless round of rebirth . . .; he alone can be his 
own deliverer and by his own effort attain release in Nirvana. . . . 
They lodge in man the power to emancipate himself from the bondage 
of empirical humanity and the cycle of mundane existence." 10 The 
role of philosophy as conceived in neo-Platonic tradition is not essen- 
tially different. 

To the Hebraic mind, such confident claims to self-salvation are 
nothing short of blasphemy. They amount to self-absolutization in 
its most presumptuous form. For man is thus held to be entirely self- 
sufficient; he does not need God, not even for his eternal salvation. 
What is this but outright atheism? 11 

The good life for man is life ordered to the Absolute. But what does 
this life imply? In the Greco-Oriental view, the good life is a life of 
contemplation, in which all attachments to the empirical world are 
broken and all illusions as to its reality dissipated; it is a life of total 
self-absorption, with illumination and finally mystic union as its goal. 
To the Hebraic mind, the good life is the life of action in the service 
of God and therefore of one's fellow-men. Nowhere is the contrast 
sharper than between the passionless quietism of the one and the 
active service of love of the other. The mystic or philosopher "sees 
and enjoys"; the man of the Bible "hears and obeys." 12 

Greco-Oriental religion is "beyond good and evil." In its view, 
ethics is instrumental, useful to clear the way for higher things. Ob- 
viously, no man can regard himself as "detached" from the world and 
free from craving if he still harbors hate or anger or envy; these there- 
fore must be removed to start with. But the higher stages of the 
mystic way transcend ethical considerations of every kind: compassion 
and loving concern are likewise obstacles to self-liberation since they, 
too, are bonds that tie the aspirant down to the world of change and 

God and Man 53 

In Hebrew religion, ethics is central and ultimate for man, though 
God himself, of course, transcends ethical categories as he does all 
others. For man, the moral life, the life of personal concern and lov- 
ing service, is not something to be left behind at any stage of spiritual 
development: man stands ever active in the service of the Absolute 
who is Lord of life. 

That there is and must be a fulfilment beyond immediate life is an 
insight common to all higher religion. But as to what this fulfilment 
is and how it is related to our present life there is the very sharpest 
disagreement. Greek and Oriental religions contemplate not so much 
the fulfilment of life and history as escape from it. What is passion- 
ately longed for is the liberation of the soul from the body, from time 
and empirical existence, and its translation to an immaterial above- 
world out of time: "the emancipation of the soul," as Moore puts it, 
"from bondage to matter and sense and the realization of its divine 
nature." 13 The immortality of an immaterial soul by virtue of its own 
imperishable quality is the characteristic doctrine of the more familiar 
varieties of this type of religion. 

In the Hebraic scheme, the great goal is not escape from life but 
its fulfilment. The prophetic proclamation of the Messianic Age and 
the "end of days" speaks of "a new heaven and new earth" in which 
all the possibilities of life will be realized and all human enterprises 
judged and fulfilled. The Hebraic outlook, which in its attitude to the 
world is so pronouncedly this-worldly, is here deepened and com- 
pleted in a trans-worldly, frans-historical vision a vision in which 
the ultimate meaning of life is revealed in terms of an "end" which 
ever confronts it. And this fulfilment is conceived as the fulfilment of 
the whole man, not merely of a disembodied soul; that is why rabbinic 
tradition is so insistent on the dogma of the resurrection of the dead, 
to the scandal of all modern minds. As in the beginning, so in the end: 
like the affirmation of a transcendent personal God, this hope of a 
"last day" on which life and history will achieve their fulfilment de- 
fines the unbridgeable gulf between Hebraic and Geco-Oriental spirit- 
uality. Here there can be no reconciliation, no compromise. 14 

Let us now summarize briefly the picture thus hastily sketched. 
Greco-Oriental religion affirms an impersonal immanent reality; He- 

54 Judaism and Modern Man 

braism proclaims its allegiance to the Lord of life and history, the 
Creator of the universe, a transcendent Person with whom man can 
establish genuinely personal relations. Greco-Oriental thought negates 
the empirical world and urges that it be brushed aside as unreal and 
delusive. It finds the principle of evil in the body and in personal 
"separateness," which it associates with the body. It has no sense of 
sin or guilt, since it finds the root of man's trouble in the benighted 
state that leads him to take illusion for reality. It can assign no mean- 
ing to life or history since both are immersed in time while only the 
eternal is real. It assures man that he can achieve salvation libera- 
tion from the world through his own efforts without God. It holds 
out mystic illumination, the contemplative "vision of God" and, in its 
extreme form, even absorption in the All-Soul as the final goal. In the 
strictest sense of the term, it is self-annihilating and life-denying. 

Hebraic religion, on the other hand, is self-affirming and life-en- 
hancing. It sees in human personality the "image of God" and the 
source of spiritual creativity. "It is not the I that is given up," Martin 
Buber declares, speaking of Judaism, "but the false self-asserting im- 
pulse. . . . There is no self-love that is not self-deceit, but without be- 
ing and remaining oneself, there is no love." 15 It does not split man 
into body and soul, but sees him whole, as a dynamic unity immersed 
in nature, yet transcending it by virtue of his freedom. Evil it finds 
not in matter or body or the natural impulses of life, but in a certain 
spiritual perversity which tempts man to try to throw off his allegiance 
to the Absolute and to make himself the center of his universe. From 
this sinful self-absolutization stems the disorder and misery of Me, 
individual and collective. There is no salvation except return to God 
in faith and repentance, no salvation except through the grateful 
acceptance of the divine forgiveness that alone can heal the soul rent 
with guilt and despair. Hebraic religion declares the life of moral 
action, the life of service to God in this world, to be the ultimate duty 
of man. It knows how to prize the inexhaustible resources of authentic 
communion with God in prayer, contemplation and study, but it never 
sees in this experience the ultimate end of human existence. It sees 
it rather as a never-failing source of spiritual power in the struggle of 
life and a sure refuge for the weary soul amidst the futilities and frus- 
trations of existence. The "end" of life and history Hebraic religion 

God and Man 55 

envisions as the Kingdom of God, in which all our efforts, all our 
hopes and enterprises, will come to fruition and judgment. 

Greco-Oriental spirituality is self centered and individualistic: "Sal- 
vation is in the strictest sense an achievement of the individual for 
himself and by himself." 18 Hebraism, on the other hand, holds salva- 
tion, like life itself, to be communal, and sees man's self-transcending 
service to fellow-man as the true service of God. Yet such is the ulti- 
mate paradox of life, that the self-absorption of the Buddhist or Yogi 
culminates in self-annihilation, while the sacrificial service enjoined 
by prophet and rabbi turns out to be the way toward personal fulfil- 
ment: "Identify your will with the will of God, that he may identify his 
will with yours." 17 

Such are the two world-outlooks. At bottom, they are irreconcil- 
able, for what one affirms the other denies, and what one denies the 
other affirms. Between them, too, in their various forms and combina- 
tions, they exhaust the field of significant religious expression. How, 
then, is one to choose between them? By what criterion are we to 
make our choice? In the last analysis, there is no such criterion, for 
since these world-views are in fact ultimate orientations, there is noth- 
ing beyond in terms of which they can be judged. Affirmation of one 
or the other is concretely a matter of total existential commitment, a 
staking of our life and the "lives of all the generations" on the truth- 
for-us. Yet even here a less ultimate consideration may be allowed 
some weight. After explaining that, in the Greco-Oriental view, "sal- 
vation is an achievement of the individual for himself and by himself," 
Moore adds: "Buddha discovered the way and taught it to men." 
But why? Why, having discovered it, did he teach it to others? This 
question would seem to constitute an insurmountable stumbling block 
to Buddhism and to lead it to what in effect is a repudiation of itself. 
For if the highest good is, as Buddhism affirms, liberation of the self 
from empirical existence and the attainment of the "endless peace" 
of Nirvana and if, as Buddhism further affirms, the Buddha had ac- 
quired the knowledge necessary to achieve this goal, why then did 
he not make use of this saving knowledge "for himself and by him- 
self"? Why, instead of liberating himself immediately as he might 
have done, did he suspend or postpone his liberation and go about 

56 Judaism and Modern Man 

preaching to his fellow-men? What was his concern with his fellow- 
men? In the Buddhist system, such behavior on the part of the Buddha 
and countless Buddhist preachers after him simply makes no sense; 
indeed, it seems to amount, as I have suggested, to a fundamental re- 
pudiation of Buddhism. It looks very much as if, at the crucial 
moment of decision, the Buddha acted not in accord with the im- 
perative of Buddhism: "Save yourself by your own effort," but in 
accordance with the Hebraic imperative: "Thou shalt love thy neigh- 
bor as thyself." The very first act of Buddhism was thus in a basic 
sense a refutation of itself. In this self-contradiction, which permeates 
Greco-Oriental spirituality in all its forms, may perhaps be found the 
clue for a final judgment between the two irreconcilable religious 


1. G. F. Moore, The Birth and Growth of Religion (Scribner's: New 
York, 1923), pp. 126-27. 

2. Meyer Waxman, A Handbook of Judaism (Bloch: New York, 1947), 
p. 134. 

3. Henri Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods (University of Chicago: Chi- 
cago, 1948), p. 343. 

4. "To the Hebrew, the world of phenomena, so far from being illusion, 
is the field of values. . . . And from this flows a correlated diversity in 
their fundamental conceptions of the role of religion. To the Indian, this 
is the attainment of peace; to the Jew, it is the realization of value." B. H. 
Streeter, The Buddha and the Christ (Macmillan: New York, 1933), p. 49. 

5. Plato Phaedo 66B, 67C, 67D, Cratylus 400C; Phaedrus 250C. 

6. Moore, op. cit., p. 120. 

7. Moore, op. cit., pp. 160, 99. 

8. "If at first he CBuberl regarded himself as a mystic, he later came to 
the conclusion that mysticism, which seeks through 'nearness to God' to 
submerge and efface man's individual character is essentially anti-religious 
and therefore non-Jewish." A. Steinberg, "The History of Jewish Religious 
Thought," The Jewish People: Past and Present (Central Yiddish Culture 
Organization: New York, 1946), I, 305. 

9. See the very significant article by John A. Hutchison, "The Biblical Idea 
of Vocation," Christianity and Society, Vol. XIII (Spring, 1948), No. 2. 

10. Moore, op. cit. f p. 19. 

God and Man 57 

1 1 . Indeed, original Buddhism and many varieties of present-day Yoga 
must be regarded as explicitly atheistic. Speaking of Yoga and associated 
cults, Moore writes: *They worship no gods and they own no Lord (per- 
sonal supreme God) . . . they undertake to show a man what he must do 
to achieve his own deliverance from the round of rebirth and its endless 
misery, to be his own savior without the aid of god or man." Moore, 
op. cit., p. 149. "Nor [in primitive Buddhism] was there any god who 
could further a man in his pursuit of salvation, much less bestow it upon 
him." p. 153. 

12. "For the Bible, the fundamental religious encounter is God's call to 
man a call not primarily to communion or contemplation but to action. 
. . . God calls us, puts us under orders, and sets us tasks in such a way 
that we become his servants, the instruments by which the divine purpose 
is accomplished in the world. And for us men, the meaning of our exis- 
tence consists in responding to this call." Hutchison, ibid. 

13. Moore, op. cit., p. 125. 

14. Sikhism, which makes a deliberate effort to combine Hinduism with 
Chrstianity and Islam, has gone far in the direction of Hebraism but has 
stopped short at these two points: (1) it affirms an "Impersonal Formless 
God," and (2) it "looks to no decisive Day of Judgment with eternal re- 
ward and punishment, but rathet to the continued development of the soul 
through countless rebirths, as in Hinduism, until it becomes at last ready 
for absorption in the Infinite Soul." H. W. Boulter, "Sikhism," Religion 
in the Twentieth Century (Philosophical Library: New York, 1948), pp. 
197-98. On these two points there could be no syncretism. 

15. Buber, "The Question to the Single One," Between Man and Man 
(Kegan Paul: London, 1947), p. 43. 

16. Moore, op. cit., p. 153. 

17. M. Abot 2.4. 


One of the greatest obstacles in the way of modern man's appropri- 
ating or even understanding the religious tradition to which he is heir 
is the fact that the only "God-idea" made available to him by con- 
temporary culture is one that can possess very little significance for 

58 Judaism and Modern Man 

his life or for the larger destiny of the world he lives in. We are all 
of us more or less involved in this strange situation. Even when we 
have succeeded in breaking through current secularist prejudice to 
the point of being ready to think seriously about God, we only too 
easily fall into a conception of the divine that has virtually no power 
or meaning in human existence. That is the only conception, appar- 
ently, of which we, in our modern-mindedness, are capable, and yet it 
is a conception that leads nowhere. The biblical teaching about God, 
even when we read and ponder the Scriptures, seems somehow to 
elude our comprehension, but it is the only teaching that can make 
our affirmation of God a potent transforming force in our lives. 

The "God-idea" that comes, so to speak, naturally to modern man 
is an idea out of Greek metaphysics and medieval scholasticism, re- 
cast here and there by the rationalism of the past two centuries. It 
sees "God" as, on the one hand, a sort of all-embracing cosmic force 
or "soul of the universe" and, on the other, as the "divine in us," the 
exalted ideals toward which we strive. Religion then becomes indeed 
what Matthew Arnold called it, "morality touched with emotion" a 
kind of sentimentalized ethic afloat in a vague, heart-warming sea of 
cosmic piety. But if that is God and that is religion, of what possible 
significance can either be? No wonder so many today who are earn- 
estly searching for something beyond the prevalent secularism can 
make nothing of religion. The religion that reaches us is somehow 
too tenuous to be relevant to the burning interests of our time, too 
etherealized to give us an understanding of the permanent crisis in 
which we find ourselves or the resources with which to cope with it. 
Something very different is required. 

And something very different is available. The "God-idea" of con- 
temporary spirituality is not the God of Hebraic religion. The God 
of Hebraic religion is not a philosophical principle, an ethical ideal 
or a cosmic process. The God of Hebraic religion, the God of the 
Bible, is a Living God. In this tremendous phrase the Living God 
which has become so strange to our ears but which occurs repeatedly 
in the Bible and continues right through rabbinic tradition, 1 is con- 
centrated the full potency of the Hebraic "God-idea." Only, it is no 
longer a mere "God-idea"; it is the Living God himself. 

God and Mem 59 

When Judaism speaks of the Living God, it means to affirm that 
the transcendent Absolute which is the ultimate reality is not an ab- 
stract idea or an intellectual principal but a dynamic Power in life and 
history and a dynamic power that is personal. The God of Judaism 
is thus best understood as a transcendent Person whose very "essence" 
is activity, activity not in some superworld of disembodied souls but 
in the actual world of men and things. 

Attribution of personality to God is a scandal to modern minds. 
The religiously inclined man of today can understand and "appreciate" 
a God who or rather, which is some impersonal process or meta- 
physical concept. But a God who is personal, a person: that seems to 
be the grossest "anthropomorphism" and therefore the grossest super- 
stition. Who can believe in any such thing? 

The embarrassment of modern man when confronted with a per- 
sonal God casts a revealing light on his entire outlook. In a certain 
sense, of course, every statement we make about God is bound to be 
both misleading and paradoxical. For the language we employ is of 
necessity the language of nature, while that to which we apply it is 
beyond nature; such usage must therefore necessarily be in some sense 
figurative and burdened with a heavy load of ambiguity. The trans- 
cendent Absolute obviously cannot be comprehended in any formula 
devised by the mind of man. Attempting to express or communicate 
what one wants to say about God is very much like trying to represent 
three-dimensional reality on a flat surface, by perspective drawing or 
projection. The representation is both true and false, significant and 
misleading: true and significant if taken in terms of the symbolism 
employed, false and misleading if taken literally. In speaking of God 
and religion, the words or phrases we use are symbols in a very special 
sense: they serve to point to a super-dimensional reality that cannot 
be grasped in idea or perception. They do more; if they are adequate 
to the purpose, they serve also to reveal some of its reality and mean- 
ing for us. We thus express what is beyond nature in terms of the 
natural, what is unconditioned in terms of the conditioned, what is 
eternal in terms of the temporal, what is absolute in terms of the rela- 
tive. 2 No wonder that every such expression of ours ends up in para- 
dox; paradox can penetrate where the self-consistent speculations of 
reason can never reach. 

60 Judaism and Modern Man 

In whatever way we speak of God, whether we speak of him as a 
cosmic force or as a transcendent Person, we are making use of re- 
ligious symbols. Everything depends upon the kind of symbols we 
use, for the symbols we use indicate not only the kind of God we 
affirm but also what is very much the same thing in the end our 
entire outlook on the universe. What do we mean when we speak 
of God as a Person? We mean that we meet God in life and history, 
not as an object, not as a thing, not as an It to use Buber's pregnant 
distinction^ but as a Thou, with whom we can enter into genuine 
person-to-person relations. Indeed, it is this I-Thou encounter with 
God that constitutes the primary life-giving experience of faith: God, 
as Buber points out, can never be expressed; he can only be addressed. 4 
This personal encounter with God "the Being that is directly, most 
nearly and lastingly over against us'"* is not "merely" subjective, as 
naturalistic oversimplification would have it; it is an immediate self- 
validating encounter which transcends the ordinary distinction between 
subject and object, just as does any genuine encounter between man 
and man. For there are two v*ays of "knowing": knowing a person by 
encounter and communication, and knowing a thing by using it. When 
one man meets another as person to person, is it not absurd to speak 
of this encounter as either subjective or objective? Is it not absurd to 
speak of it as if the encounter itself, as well as the person we meet, 
were no more than a state of mind of ours or, on the other hand, as 
if the other person were an object about whose existence we have to 
assure ourselves through the objective procedures of scientific method? 
Is not this a total falsification of the real meaning of the I-Thou en- 
counter, which is primary and self -revealing and prior to all distinc- 
tions of the understanding? What is true between man and man is true 
equally, or rather pre-eminently, between man and God. 6 

The ascription of personality to God is thus an affirmation of the 
fact that in the encounter of faith God meets us as person to person. 
It means, too, that the divine Person we meet in this encounter con- 
fronts us as a source of free dynamic activity and purpose. It is this 
freedom and purpose that, within limits for the human spirit is con- 
ditioned by all the circumstances of life exhibits itself in our own 
existence as an essential part of the meaning of personality. In God, 
these limitations are, of course, stripped away, and the free activity 

God and Man 61 

of personality manifests itself in consummate form. The Scriptural 
writers whether legalist, priestly or prophetic simply take the full 
personality of God as axiomatic. God speaks and is spoken to; he is 
jealous, angry, compassionate and forgiving; he acts and is acted 
upon; he has aims and purposes which he executes in history: he is, 
in short, a "decision-making person who has communication with and 
care for decision-making persons on this earth." 7 Later philosophers 
and to some extent even rabbinic writers were embarrassed by bibli- 
cal expressions reflecting this "conception" of God and tried to explain 
them away as merely figurative or poetical; 8 modern apologists have 
generally followed the same line. But this will not do. Remove the 
"anthropomorphic" or rather anthropopathic features from the 
biblical account of God and nothing whatever is left, not even a philo- 
sophical concept. "The divine reveals itself," writes A. J. Heschel, dis- 
cussing the prophetic experience, "in a characteristically conditioned 
manner. ... It reveals itself in its 'pathetic,' that is, emotional-personal 
bearing. God does not merely command and require obedience, he is 
also moved and affected; he does not simply go on ruling the world 
impassively, he also experiences it." 9 The God of Hebraic religion is 
either a living, active, "feeling" God or he is nothing. 

Why is it that we, modern-minded men, are so scandalized when 
we are seriously asked to think of God as personal? To some extent, 
it is probably due to the fact that we have inherited the Greek meta- 
physical conception of God as Pure Being, incapable of change, modi- 
fication, affection or outgoing action; after all, as Brunner points out, 
are not the Greeks the "tutors of our age" so that "even the thinking 
of the common man ... is thoroughly pervaded by their thought"? 10 
But fundamentally, it seems to me, this embarrassment of ours is to 
be traced to the pervasive antipersonalistic bias of our culture. The 
whole tendency of mechanistic science and technology in the past two 
centuries has been to "dehumanize" our thinking and to imbue us with 
the conviction that personality is "merely subjective" and therefore 
unreal, since real reality, the reality presented to us by science, is im- 
personal. It is not seen how ambiguous, how dangerous, this term 
"impersonal" is, implying, as it does, both what is above and what is 
below personality. It may be proper to hesitate to attribute personality 
unconditionally to the divine because God's superpersonal being takes 

62 Judaism and Modern Man 

in and transcends all aspects of personality, but it is sheer stultification 
to relegate the divine to a JwZ?personal level. 11 How far must the de- 
personalization, the dehumanization, of our culture have gone that we 
have come to regard it as a mark of enlightenment and sophistication 
to picture the highest reality in terms of such subhuman concepts as a 
tendency of development or a field of force! 

To deny personality to God, as the modern mind is prone to do, is 
thus, at bottom, to deny the reality and worth of personality in man. 
On the other hand, the affirmation of God as personal is not only dic- 
tated by the reality of the divine-human encounter but is also a vindi- 
cation of the pre-eminence of personal being as we find it in human 
existence over the nonpersonal categories of science and philosophy. 
This conclusion is significant of a general relation we shall find re- 
peated in various contexts: the denial of God leads inexorably to the 
devaluation and destruction of man. 

God is thus not some "spiritual" abstraction or principle for man to 
reach through intellectual illumination; God, in Hebraic religion, is an 
active, living "decision-making" Being who plunges into human history 
and personally encounters men in their activity. But this God, let us 
not forget, is a transcendent God never to be simply identified with, 
or found inside of, the world of nature and man. This paradox of a 
God who is beyond everything in nature and history, and yet is ever 
actively involved in both, goes to the heart of Hebraic religion, espe- 
cially as revealed in the prophetic writings. It is the dialectical para- 
dox of the Wholly Other/Wholly Present that we meet on all levels 
of life and experience. 12 

This paradox is most profoundly expressed in the biblical teaching 
on creation, which is in more than one sense the beginning of all that 
follows. According to the Scriptural account, God creates the world, 
and, in later interpretation, creates it out of nothing. All existence that 
is not God is thus affirmed to be conditioned by and dependent upon 
God, the Unconditioned: God as Creator is Lord over all. This is the 
foundation of biblical theology. 

Modern man finds it difficult to understand this or any other con- 
cept of creation because science seems to him to teach the infinity 
of time and space, the beginninglessness and endlessness and therefore 

God and Man 63 

the essential changelessness of things. 18 But the pronouncements of 
science in this regard are not only dubious but irrelevant, for what the 
biblical doctrine of creation is intended to express is not so much an 
event in time as the presupposition of all temporal existence. Creation 
is thus in the first place an affirmation that "nature" or the world is 
not self-subsistent and autonomous but owes its being to its transcen- 
dent source. The Creator God, however, is not the absentee divinity 
of deism, who, having once completed his work, retires from the 
universe. God re-creates the universe at every moment, rabbinic tra- 
dition tells us, 14 and this is meant to express not only the pregnant in- 
sight that creation continues but also the fundamental fact that, even 
after it has come into being, the created universe can make no claim 
to self-subsistence. Creation continues because the universe remains 
open and novelty ever emerges, because no system of closed mechani- 
cal determinism can ever be final. For the same reason, the universe 
can never lay claim to autonomy unless "Nature," as with Spinoza 
and other pantheists, is taken to be divine. It is precisely this type of 
idolatry the worship of the world, its powers and "laws" that the 
biblical doctrine of creation protects us against. 

Between the Creator God and the world that is his creation there 
is a vast gulf that can be bridged only from the side of the divine: 
all significance, all value, all power is an endowment from God. This, 
in the last analysis, is the meaning of the holiness of God which the 
Scriptural and rabbinical writers are never tired of exalting. 15 

The absolute transcendence of God CH. Frankfort declares! is 
the foundation of Hebrew religious thought. God is absolute, 
unqualified, ineffable, transcending every phenomenon, the one 
and only cause of all existence. God, moreover, is holy, which 
means that all values are ultimately his. ... To Hebrew thought, 
nature appears void of divinity. . . God is not in sun and stars, 
rain and wind; they are his creatures and serve him. Every al- 
leviation of the stern belief in God's transcendence is corruption. 
In Hebrew religion, and in Hebrew religion alone, the ancient 
[pagan! bond between man and nature is destroyed. . . . Man 
remains outside nature. . . , 16 

As Waxman puts it, in Judaism "man is freed from subjection to 
nature." 17 And indeed faith in the transcendent God who is Lord of 
nature saves man from standing in superstitious terror before the 

64 Judaism and Modern Man 

powers of nature or from being swallowed up in sentimental-mystical 
ecstasy by its mysterious rhythms. Nature is neither divine nor cor- 
rupt; sustained in this belief, man can confront it without fear and 
master it. 18 

The traditional doctrine of creation out of nothing expresses the 
conviction that there is no ultimate principle in the universe aside from 
God. It is thus an utter rejection of the dualism or polytheism that 
underlies all religions but those stemming from Hebraic sources. Be- 
cause God created the universe, existence as such must be good; 19 
indeed, the Scriptural account presents God as making this pronounce- 
ment at every stage of the creative process. Hebraic teaching has no 
place for the Greco-Oriental notion, so influential in our thinking, 
that matter is the eternal source of evil. There is nothing eternal but 
God; moreover, the created universe, the natural, the "material" uni- 
verse in all its aspects, is not evil. Evil, of course, there is, but this 
evil cannot be inherent in existence. It cannot be part of the eternal 
order of creation but must lather represent a disruption of it. How 
that is brought about we shall have occasion to discuss. 

Taking it in its larger meaning, the biblical doctrine of creation can 
thus be seen to be the indispensable ground for any conception of 
nature that does justice to its reality and value without losing sight 
of its contingent and conditioned character. 

The affirmation of God as Creator is associated with the affirmation 
of the divine sovereignty. No appellation for God is more common 
in biblical-rabbinical literature or in Jewish liturgy than the term 
King; no concept is more characteristic of the Hebraic outlook than 
the Kingdom that is, the kingship of God. David's prayer, as re- 
corded in Chronicles, communicates something of the intensity and 
exaltation of spirit behind these phrases: "Thine, O Lord, is the great- 
ness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty; 
for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine; Thine is the 
kingdom, O Lord, and Thou art exalted as head above all" (I Chron. 
29:11). The formula introducing virtually every prayer in the liturgy 
is: "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe. . . . 20 

What does the kingship of God mean in the context of Hebraic 
religion? Its implications are inexhaustible, but above everything else 

God and Man 65 

it means that the God who created the universe is the absolute Lord 
over nature, life and history. No aspect of existence escapes his sov- 
ereign rule: "All men must bring all their lives under the whole will of 
God." 21 Life cannot be departmentalized into secular and sacred, 
material and spiritual, with the latter alone falling under divine juris- 
diction. No such distinction is recognized in Hebraic religion; the 
attempt to withdraw anything, no matter how seemingly insignificant, 
from divine rule is branded as an attempt to set up a rival, an idola- 
trous, claim against the sovereignty of God: "I am the Lord thy God 
. . .; thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exod. 20:2-3). All 
life, all existence, is governed by one ultimate principle and that prin- 
ciple is the will of the Living God. 

The affirmation of the divine sovereignty taken seriously means, of 
course, that only God is absolute. This simple statement has the 
widest ramifications. It implies immediately that everything which 
is not God is "relativized." Nothing but God possesses any value in 
its own right. Whatever is not God and that means everything in 
the world, every society, institution, belief or movement is infected 
with relativity and can at best claim only a passing and partial validity. 
This God-centered relativism does justice to whatever is valid in the 
relativistic emphasis of modern thought without falling into the self- 
destructive nihilism to which the latter invariably leads. It makes avail- 
able a perspective that transcends the immediacies and partial interests 
of life and is thus a most potent force for sanity in individual and social 

Moreover, if God is the so\ereign Lord of existence, it follows that 
the whole duty of man is comprised in single-minded obedience and 
service to him God is master; man, his servant with all that this 
implies. This exaltation of the absolute sovereignty of God and the 
unrelieved emphasis on man's utter subjection and dependence, so 
characteristic of Hebraic spirituality, comes rather as a shock to the 
modern mind, which finds such notions "archaic," not to say offen- 
sive to democratic decency. Indeed, one very popular writer on reli- 
gion finds it un-American. "A religion that will emphasize man's 
nothingness and God's omnipotence, that calls upon us to deny our 
own powers and glorify his," he proclaims, "may have fitted the needs 
of many Europeans but it will not satisfy the growing self-confident 

66 Judaism and Modern Man 

character of America. . . . We Americans have had little of the feeling 
of helplessness and dependence that characterizes so much of Oriental 
and European religion." 22 There is no occasion here to examine what 
the religious tradition of America really is; it is obviously something 
very different from the brash and superficial chauvinism this writer 
makes it out to be. What is much more important is to bring to light 
the utter confusion as to the nature of religion and the nature of man 
involved in this type of criticism. For the democratic idea makes sense 
only in a society of equals and not even the most zealous liberal would 
venture to assert such a relation between man and God. As a matter 
of fact, as we shall see later, the very concept of human equality has 
no meaning and democracy no validity except in terms of the common 
subjection of all men to the sovereignty of God. It is through loyal 
and devoted acknowledgment of this sovereignty that man finds his 
true freedom and personal dignity. Pretensions to self-sufficiency and 
attempts to measure himself against his Maker can only lead, as they 
have always led in the past, to utter chaos within the soul of man and 
the community he attempts to create. Denial of the divine sovereignty 
leads directly and inexorably to the disruption of human life. No one 
should know this better than the man of today who is heir to all the 
devastation that the fatal Prometheanism of the modern age has, 
brought upon the world. 


1. See, e.g., Deut. 5:23; Jer. 10:10, 23, 36; Hos. 2:1; Pss. 42: 2-3; 84.3. 
The term is particularly frequent in the liturgy. 

2. "Religious symbols always use a finite reality in order to express our 
relation to the infinite. But the finite reality they use is not an arbitrary 
means for an end, something strange to it. It participates in the power of 
the ultimate for which it stands. A religious symbol is double-edged. It 
expresses not only that which is symbolized but also that through which u 
is symbolized." Paul Tilhch, "Religion and Secular Culture," The Journal 
of Religion, Vol. XXVI (April, 1946), No. 2. 

3. Martin Buber, / and Thou (T. & T. Clark: Edinburgh, 1937), passim. 

4. Buber, op. dr., p. 81. 

5. Buber, op. cit., p. 80. 

God and Man 67 

6. That is what makes attempts to "prove" the existence of God such an 
impertinence. "So rather let us mock God out and out," says Kierke- 
gaard; "this is always preferable to the disparaging air of importance 
with which one would prove God's existence. For to prove the existence 
of one who is present is the most shameless affront, since it is an attempt 
to make him ridiculous. . . . How could it occur to anybody to prove 
that he exists unless one had permitted oneself to ignore him and now 
makes the thing all the worse by proving his existence before his very 
nose? The existence of a king or his presence is commonly acknowledged 
by an appropriate expression of subjection and submission; what if, in his 
presence, one were to prove that he existed? . . . One proves God's ex- 
istence by worship." Concluding Unscientific Postscript (Princeton Uni- 
versity: Princeton, N. J., 1944), p. 485. 

7. J. P. Hyatt, Prophetic Religion (Abingdon-Cokesbury: Nashville, 
Tenn., 1947), p. 154. 

8. The efforts of Philo, Maimonides and other philosophers to get rid of 
or explain away the anthropomorphisms of Scripture are well known. 
Even Judah Halevi is so far carried away by the philosophic conception 
of the impassive, immutable deity that he actually denies God the attribute 
of mercy: "They attribute to him mercy and compassion, although this 
is, in our conception, surely nothing but a weakness of the soul and a 
quick movement of nature. This cannot be applied to God, ordaining the 
poverty of one individual and the wealth of another. His nature remains 
quite unaffected by it. He has no sympathy with one nor anger against 
another." Kitab Al-Khazari, tr. by Hartwig Hirschfeld (Bernard G. Rich- 
ards: New York, 1927), ii. 2. 

9. A. J. Heschel, Die Prophetic (Polish Academy of Sciences: Cracow, 
1936), p. 131. 

10. Emil Brunner, "Die Bedeutung des Alten Testaments," Zwischen den 
Zeiten, Vol. VIII (1930). 

11. "The depth of being cannot be symbolized by objects taken from a 
realm which is lower than the personal, from the realm of things and sub- 
personal living beings. The supra-personal is not an 'It,' or more correctly 
it is a 'He' as much as it is an 'It' and it is above both of them. But if the 
4 He' element is left out, the 'It' element transforms the alleged supra- 
personal into a sub-personal, as it usually happens in monism and panthe- 
ism." Tilhch, "The Idea of the Personal God," Union Review (Novem- 
ber, 1940). 

12. Buber, / and Thou, p. 79. 

13. It is significant, as E. Frank points out, that "although modern man 
does doubt creative power in God, he certainly does not doubt the possi- 
bility of such a creative power in himself. And how could he doubt the 
possibility of a free will and of the power of self-determination in him- 
self if without it his own thinking would be without truth and meaning?" 

68 Judaism and Modern Man 

'Time and Eternity," Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 1 (September, 1948), 
No. 5. 

14. "God is not only the sole creator of the world, he alone upholds it 
and maintains in existence by his immediate will and power everything 
that is. This universal teaching of the Bible is equally the doctrine of 
Judaism: 'God created and he provides; he made and he sustains.' The 
maintenance of the world is a kind of continuous creation: God in his 
goodness makes new every day continually the work of creation." G. F. 
Moore, Judaism (Harvard University: Cambridge, Mass, 1927), I, 384; 
Moore provides the documentation. 

"[The Prophets] proclaimed God's work in nature in the creation as 
sustaining of the cosmos. . . Second Isaiah did not believe that Yahweh's 
work in creation was an absolutely finished thing; Yahweh was ever creat- 
ing in history that which could be proclaimed as new." J. P. Hyatt, Pro- 
phetic Religion, p. 158. 

15. E.g., Lev. 19:2 : "I, the Lord your God, am holy"; Isa. 6:3 : "Holy, 
holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts." The Holy One Blessed is He is one of 
the most familiar appellations of God in rabbinic literature. See Moore, 
Judaism, II, 101 ff., 109 ff. 

"According to this attribute [the "Holy One of Israel," as used by 
Isaiah], YHVH is not only holy but the Holy, that is to say, everything in 
the world which is to be named holy is so because it is hallowed by him." 
Buber, The Prophetic Faith (Macmillan: New York, 1949), pp. 206-07. 

16. Henri Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods (University of Chicago: 
Chicago, 1948), pp. 342-44. Some tenses have been changed in the 

17. Meyer Waxman, A Handbook of Judaism (Bloch: New York, 1947), 
p. 136. 

18. E. A. Burtt shows how conceptions of God and his creative work de- 
rived from Hebraic tradition served to provide the metaphysical founda- 
tions of early modern science. The Metaphysical Foundations of Early 
Modern Science (Harcourt, Brace: New York, 1932), esp. pp. 148, 256, 

19. Waxman, A Handbook of Judaism, p. 140. 

20. Particularly significant are the Malkuyot (Kingdom verses) in the 
liturgy for Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah, echoing the ancient fes- 
tival of the enthronement of Yahweh, is in fact the celebration of the 
Kingship of God. 

21. J. P. Hyatt, Prophetic Religion, p. 51. 

22. Joshua Loth Liebman, Peace of Mind (Simon & Schuster: New York, 
1946), p. 173. 


In the universe created and sustained by the divine power, man 
enters as an anomalous element. Man is, of course, a creature, a part 
of the natural order, yet he obviously cannot be confined to the limit- 
ing conditions of nature. He alone of all creation is somehow capable 
of assuming a standpoint outside of creation. Bertrand Russell, whose 
feeling for man's uniqueness is so strangely at odds with the general 
cast of his thought, has expressed this aspect of the human situation 
in the following words: 

A strange mystery it is that nature, omnipotent but blind, has 
brought forth at last a child, subject still to her power but gifted 
with sight, with knowledge of good and evil, with the capacity 
of judging all the works of his unthinking mother . . . Man is yet 
free, during his brief years, to examine, to criticize, to know and 
in imagination to create. To him alone in the world with which 
he is acquainted, this freedom belongs and in this lies his su- 
periority to the resistless forces that control his outer life. 1 

It is this capacity to see, to judge, to criticize, to create, that 
points to the spiritual dimension of human life and lifts man above 
the plane of natural causality. "Man," says Pascal, "surpasses himself 
infinitely." 2 He is the "undefined animal" of Nietzsche. Even the 
"materialist" Engels finds him to be "the sole animal capable of work- 
ing his way out of the mere animal state his normal state being one 
appropriate to his consciousness, one to be created by himself." 3 Self- 
transcendence is the mark of man. Every aspect of his finite life opens 
up with infinite possibilities. 

The Scriptural account of the creation of man conveys the profound 
truth of his paradoxical status in the universe. Man is in nature, yet 
transcends it; he is subject to the rule of natural necessity, yet retains 
an irreducible freedom of self-determination within the conditioning 
factors of nature and history. He is fixed at the juncture of time and 

An adequate philosophy of man must do justice to both of the in- 


70 Judaism and Modern Man 

separable aspects of his nature. The Hebraic conception avoids alike 
the pitfalls of naturalism and of body-soul dualism. Naturalism con- 
siders man as merely a natural object, part of the order of nature in 
a way not essentially different from "other" animals. It does not, 
therefore, hesitate to insert him into a scheme of causal determinism 
that leaves no room for freedom, reason or moral responsibility. It 
deprives him of his character as man. Dualism, on the other hand, 
the dualism that vitiates so much of Greek and Oriental thought, looks 
upon the body as a prison-house of the soul from which the 
latter is constantly striving to escape. It sees man as essentially im- 

Judaism refuses to adopt either view. It refuses to exalt nature as 
self-sufficient or to disparage it as inferior and unreal. It unreservedly 
accepts it as the condition of life and finds the distinctive human note 
in the transfiguration of life and nature by spirit. In the age-old vi- 
sion of the resurrection, it is the whole man, not his "soul" alone, that 
is revived to share in the fulfilment of human destiny. It is the whole 
man, man as a natural organism transfigured by spirit, that Judaism 
sees and with which it is concerned. 

Because dualism thinks of man as essentially immaterial, it sees 
the essence of human existence in the contemplative life proper to a 
disembodied spirit. Naturalism, on the other hand, attempts to re- 
duce human existence to the interaction of organism and environment. 
The Hebraic view differs from both in its realistic and dynamic em- 
phasis. It finds the "essence" of man in his will and activity. How we 
will and what we do, that we are. It is not that man exists and then 
acts. He exists in that he wills and acts. His activity is explicit, forth- 
going existence; his existence, implicit activity. In a sense far more 
profound than ever pragmatism conceived it, man is what he does. 

To those accustomed to think of man in dualistic terms stemming 
from Greek philosophy or Oriental mysticism, the Hebraic conception 
of man as dynamic and unitary 4 must seem insufferably materialistic. 
And indeed in a sense it is. For in the Hebraic view, there is no aspect 
of life so exalted, so spiritual, that it is without its roots in material 
nature. But, on the other hand, there is nothing, literally nothing, that 
is simply and exclusively material in man. In man, every natural im- 
pulse is transformed, every organic vitality is transmuted, into a spirit- 

God and Man 71 

ual force that operates in indeterminate forms along a new dimension 
of freedom. 5 Sex becomes love or lust; kinship becomes racialism or 
fraternity; gregariousness becomes free community or totalitarian 
regimentation; the will-to-live becomes the service of love or the drive 
for power. Nothing is merely given or fixed in nature; yet everything, 
however transfigured in spirituality, is grounded in the natural condi- 
tions of life. Such is the paradox that is man, a natural organism that 
is more than nature because it is transformed through spirit and is thus 
able to achieve a new level of freedom. 

"Spirit," says Kierkegaard, 6 "is self," personality. But a human 
self isolated and alone could never come into being: without a "Thou" 
there could be no "I". 7 It is in the encounter between the "I" and the 
"Thou," between the one and the other, that the human self is born. 
In the ordinary commerce of life, the other is, of course, one's fellow- 
man; but this relationship cannot be ultimate since neither party to it 
is self-subsistent. The reality of the human self is grounded in its rela- 
tion as a "Thou" to the absolute "I" which is God. It is the word of 
God that calls it forth and maintains it in being. 8 Thus its very struc- 
ture is responsive, since it depends for its existence upon the Absolute 
Subject to whom it responds. In this relation is expressed both the 
creatureliness and the personality of man: he is not merely spoken to; 
he answers, and in answering he has his being. The "word of God" 
is thus no mere arbitrary figure; it is a true symbol since it points to 
the intrinsic nature of human existence and of the divine-human rela- 
tionship in a way which is somehow congruent with the reality itself. 

We can now see why Buber so often speaks of spirit as "the word," 9 
or rather the capacity of the word, the capacity to hear and respond. 
For whatever may be one's relation to an object, the word alone is a 
suitable means for establishing relations between two subjects, not 
only between man and man but also between man and God. Man's 
personal relationship to God, as indeed his personal relationship to 
his fellow-men, baffles reason and outstrips interpretation; but in op- 
position to mysticism, we must emphatically affirm that it takes place 
only on the level of the dialogic life, 10 on the level of personal com- 
munion through the word. The centrality of the word in Scripture 
and later Jewish tradition 11 reflects the decisive fact that the "point of 

72 Judaism and Modern Man 

contact" between God and man the that in man which raises him 
above the level of nature is his "capacity of the word." It is this 
capacity that opens before man the infinite and indeterminate possi- 
bilities of his freedom. It is this capacity that endows him with re- 
sponsibility as a moral being. In the inwardness of responsive free- 
dom is grounded the power of decision that sets man apart from the 
rest of creation. 

This is the aspect of man's nature his capacity of the word, his 
personality, his freedom and responsibility which Jewish tradition 
holds to be the mark of the divine likeness impressed upon him. Man, 
in the words of Scripture, is created "in the image of God." From this 
conception of the divine image in man flow all those aspects of life 
that we speak of as the spiritual dimension of existence. 

The "image of God" in man establishes an affinity between man 
and God without in the least obscuring the vast gulf between creature 
and Creator. It makes possible personal fellowship, a genuine I-Thou 
relation, between the two. Man is meant for this fellowship and he is 
constantly striving for it, often against his knowledge and conscious 
intent. "With emphasis primarily on the person'' Woodbridge writes, 
"man seeks kinship not with animals and the rest of nature but with 
the divine." 12 For it is the divine to which he is ordained. That is 
his "essential nature," if by that term we understand his original being 
and the vocation for which he is meant. 

With such an exalted destiny open to him, it is no wonder that man 
is hailed by the Psalmist as "but little lower than the divine" (Ps. 8:6). 

But to whatever heights Judaism may raise man in recognition 
of the potentialities of the "image of God" within him, it never for- 
gets that he is but man. It never forgets that he is but a creature; it 
never confuses him with his Creator. "For the Israelite conscious- 
ness," Heschel writes, "the divine being is unapproachable. Its holi- 
ness is set in polar opposition to human limitations." 18 The contrast 
between God and man is not merely a contrast between infinity and 
finiteness, power and weakness, wisdom and ignorance, although, of 
course, it is that, too; the fundamental and devastating contrast is, as 
Heschel notes, between the holiness of God and the "limitations," 
the unworthiness, of man. Extolling man's freedom and his capacity 

God and Man 73 

to transcend self in decision as evidence of the divine image impressed 
upon him, Judaism does not overlook the dark side of human ex- 
istence. It does not overlook the fact of sin. 

Sin has long been a word repugnant to a certain type of modern 
mind, more concerned with evading responsibility for the horrors of 
the world than with facing the facts of life. Contemporary thinking, 
however, is beginning to take a much more realistic view of the prob- 
lem of evil. It is beginning to see that we cannot do without the 
concept of sin or its equivalent if we are serious about trying to under- 
stand the nature of man. With E. A. Burtt, many to whom the word 
was once anathema are coming "to see some very profound truths 
in the theological doctrine of sin." 14 A mere reading of modern psy- 
chology would be enough to lead one to this conclusion, even if the 
entire experience of the twentieth century had not driven it home with 
tragic emphasis. 

Facing unflinchingly the darker aspects of human existence, Jewish 
tradition, following in the line of the prophets, recognizes that there 
is in man something making for evil, which it knows as the yetzer ha-ra 
(impulse to evil). But authentic Jewish tradition refuses to take the 
easy way of identifying this aspect of man's nature with his body or 
flesh, in the manner of Greek and Oriental philosophy. The flesh 
and its impulses, being part of God's creation, are in themselves in- 
nocent, though they may be perverted by an evil "heart." For the 
source of the evil and unreason in human life, prophet and rabbi 
look elsewhere and deeper. And what they find is as fresh and perti- 
nent to the facts of today as if it had just been discovered. 

Moral evil the dreadful ills inflicted by man upon himself and 
his fellow-men they find to be the fruit of the same spiritual free- 
dom that constitutes his glory and makes possible his fellowship with 
God: it is the fruit of the wrong use of that freedom. Man alone 
possesses the power to defy and frustrate his "essential nature." Such 
is the paradox of man that it is precisely his powers of spirit, the 
powers that raise him pre-eminent in the scale of creation, which en- 
able him to upset the harmonies of creation and bring untold misery 
upon himself and his fellows. It is the divine image impressed upon 
him, as manifested in his freedom and capacity for decision, that 
gives him power to make or mar life, to serve God or to defy him. 15 

74 Judaism and Modern Man 

For that is just what sin is revolt against God, turning away from 
the source of life, renunciation of allegiance to the Absolute. 18 This 
is the theme of the Scriptural account of "man's first disobedience," 
a profound symbol of the predicament in which every human being 
finds himself. 

Man is a creature relative, finite, incomplete. But he is also a 
creature endowed with a capacity to know and to resent his finiteness, 
relativity and incompleteness. In his efforts to surmount his limita- 
tions, he is ever tempted to forget his Creator and to insert himself 
at the center of all his enterprises, to make every activity of his life 
serve not the glory of God but his own self-glorification and ag- 
grandizement. He is ever tempted to exalt himself and the work of 
his hands into the god of his own little universe. When man thus runs 
amok in the pride of his spirit, the devastation he leaves in his wake 
is fearful indeed. The divine image in him is obscured, 17 his reason 
is warped, his natural instincts are perverted, his relations with his 
fellow-men are poisoned: a tragic wall of alienation is erected be- 
tween himself and the divine source of his life. Man is then lost in- 
deed, desolate and forlorn in a hostile universe. 

The impulse to the aggrandizement and exaltation of the self is, at 
bottom, the consequence of man's insecurity. Not merely the ordinary 
.insecurities of life are here implied but the underlying existential in- 
security, the cosmic anxiety, in which man is involved simply because 
he is man and of which he can free himself only through the self- 
forgetting love of God. Its source is the tension arising out of the 
conflict between man's self-transcending freedom and the inherent 
limitations of his creatureliness. 18 Striving to overcome this tension 
and to allay the anxiety gnawing at his heart, he is constantly under 
a double temptation: either to deny his freedom and lose himself in 
a welter of organic impulse, which is sensuality, or to deny his 
creatureliness by attempting, in his pride, to play the god and assert 
his power over his fellow-men. 19 

It is not mere finiteness, be it noted, that constitutes the "misery" 
of man, just as it is not simply the infinity of self-transcendence that 
constitutes his "grandeur." What is at the root of the human pre- 
dicament is the paradox of finite infinity or better, of finiteness "in- 
finitized." Man is finite and knows it. Therefore he can never remain 

God and Man 75 

content in his finiteness, as can the rest of creation. The "infinity" 
he craves he may hope to achieve by an all-engulfing, all-transcend- 
ing love of God or else by making infinite pretensions for his finite 
impulses, ideas and enterprises. The former is faith; the latter, 
sin the sin of sins: pride, self-absolutization. 

The prophetic-rabbinic teaching reveals a profound understanding 
of the roots of human evil in man's sinful pretensions. "Pride," 
Solomon Schechter tells us, summarizing the traditional doctrine on 
the subject, "is the root of all evil, man setting himself up as an idol, 
worshipping his own self, and thus forced to come into collision with 
God and his fellow-men." 20 There is no limit to the havoc man works 
once he begins to exalt himself and usurp the place of God, and no- 
where is the devastation greater than in his own soul. 

Through sinful self-absolutization, man builds a barrier between 
himself and God and thus forfeits the divine fellowship which alone 
can bring him peace and fulfilment. He condemns himself to frustra- 
tion and despair, to a life that cannot escape the emptiness of fu- 
tility, to an anxious insecurity that grows more intense with every 
effort to overcome it. There is only one way out. By repentance and 
repentance alone by "turning back" to God, as the Hebrew phrase 
so significantly puts it can man remove the wall of alienation and 
regain his fellowship with the divine. Only thus can we establish a 
secure foundation for existence. Not by the denial of sin or an at- 
tempt to evade responsibility for it, but by a contrite recognition of 
the true source of our guilt in the self estranged from God, can we 
hope to find a path that will lead us back to the Lord of life from 
whom alone ultimate security and fulfilment can come. 

The Hebraic view of man is thus irreducibly ambivalent, hinging 
as it does upon a dramatic tension both in the nature of man and in 
his relations with God. Man's "essential nature" that is, the nature 
with which he is endowed by his Creator is such as to require and 
make possible a life of self -giving fellowship; his actual sinful ex- 
istence, however, stands in stark contrast to the law of his being. We 
have it within ourselves to transcend self in reason, imagination and 
moral freedom, but this capacity of ours for self-transcendence is 
limited and corrupted by the radical egotism of our sinful nature. 

76 Judaism and Modern Man 

Even when we do succeed in rising above the self and its interests, 
our very achievement, as we well know, is only too prone to become 
the instrument of the self on a new level of self-assertion. In Jewish 
tradition, this insight into the dual nature of man is expressed in the 
doctrine of the two "impulses," the good and evil yetzers, with which 
he is endowed. This is a profound insight and it should not be re- 
duced, as it sometimes has been, to the simple affirmation that man 
is both originally good and originally evil, as if the two were co- 
ordinate and paired off to balance each other. "The more conspicuous 
figure of the two yetzers/' Solomon Schechter says, "is that of the 
evil yetzer" \ indeed, "by yetzer without any specification is often 
meant the evil yetzer." 2 * Moreover, and this is crucial, the evil yetzer 
is held to be something inherent in man as he exists in this world: 
"The Scripture," Moore says, "unqualifiedly declares man's native 
impulse to be evil." 22 The power for good, on the other hand, is 
described as coming to man through the Torah that is, through 
divine grace when man is in condition to receive it.' Jd "Every day," 
we are told, "the yetzer of man assaults him and but for the Holy 
One blessed be he, who helps man, he could not resist it." J4 Man 
does indeed possess a capacity for the good, but for this capacity to 
become operative in his life, he needs the grace, the help, of God 
and the faith to receive it. He who would do evil so runs an im- 
portant rabbinic teaching finds the means ready at hand; but he 
who would do good requires the assistance of the heavenly power. 25 
The weakness and evil in man operate out of the freedom of his own 
nature; his capacity for good, though grounded in his nature, needs 
the grace of God for its realization. Ethics thus passes over into re- 

The full dimensions of human sin are represented symbolically in 
the biblical account of Paradise and the fall of man. In the primal 
perfection ("rightness") of his essential nature in Paradise, Adam (the 
man) was at one with his Creator, with himself, with the woman and 
with nature. Through his sin, through his turning away from God 
in self-willed disobedience, we are told, he disrupted all of these har- 
monies and brought self-contradiction into his own being and into 
his relations with his environment. He thus lost Paradise and was 
obliged henceforth to pursue his existence amidst conditions of inner 

God and Man 77 

conflict, social discord and an external nature that was "cursed" be- 
cause of his sin. Yet despite his sin, we are given to understand, 
the structure of being in which he was created was still his. He was 
still man, and the regret and remorse he felt may be taken as a sign 
that his original perfection had not been totally destroyed by his 
lapse. Man left Paradise under the dominance of sin, yet with some- 
thing within him that testified to the fact that the original power of 
the divine image with which he had been endowed in creation was 
still somehow operative in his nature. 

Thus understood, man's fall is not an historical event in the life 
of the first man, nor is "original sin" a stain transmitted biologically to 
his descendants. Both "original sin" and "original perfection" are 
aspects of the existential moment, true of every point in history but not 
themselves historical. The original perfection of Paradise is the per- 
fection of the idea; the fall occurs in the transition to action: 

Between the idea 
And the reality 
Between the motion 
And the act 
Falls the Shadow. 26 

In idea, the self is capable of achieving a position in which its 
own anxieties and interests are transcended, but when idea gives way 
to action, the self always manages to insinuate itself again at the 
heart of the enterprise. Yet however "inevitable" the corruption of 
the act may be, it is never "natural," for it runs counter to our es- 
sential nature, given in creation. That is why we are never content 
with sinning, but must always attempt to justify ourselves by an ap- 
peal to some universal principle. The guilt we feel and the justifica- 
tions to which we are driven are striking evidence that the original 
perfection or "rightness" of our nature is still there operative within 
us, though now no longer sufficient of itself to save us from sin. The 
dominion of sin can only be broken by a power not our own, the 
power of divine grace. 

Recognizing this polarity at the heart of man's moral nature, the 
Hebraic conception refuses to countenance either the fatuous opti- 
mism of the Rousseauistic 27 doctrine of the "natural goodness" of 
man or the hopeless pessimism of the ultra-Calvinistic doctrine of 

78 Judaism and Modern Man 

his utter depravity. 28 Nor can it accept either idealism, which pretends 
that man is still in his unfallen state and therefore capable of appre- 
hending in reason the ultimate truth of things, or naturalism, which 
takes the fallen state as normal, ignores the divine image in man and 
treats him as if he were nothing but an animal organism. The Hebraic 
conception is at once more realistic and more complex, for it sees 
man in his duality and conflict, in the tension of struggle out of which 
is generated that tragic sense of life which is the mark of high religion. 

As man faces God in obedience, rebellion and repentance, so God 
confronts man as Judge and Father. These two terms, diawn from 
our earthly experience, have been found to be most adequate for ex- 
pressing the ever-threatening judgment and the never-failing love that 
meet us in the divine-human encounter. The rabbinic doctrine of 
the twin "attributes" of justice and mercy 29 is rooted in and is con- 
tinuous with the teachings of Scripture about the God who is the 
righteous "Judge of all the earth" (Gen. 18: 25) and yet is "merciful 
and gracious, slow to anger, . . . forgiving iniquity and transgression 
and sin" (Exod 34: 6-7). The righteousness of God places all our 
enterprises, all our ideas, interests and activities, under a pitiless and 
inescapable judgment. It is a judgment under which we stand every 
moment of our lives and before which all our inadequacies and per- 
versities are laid bare. It is a judgment that is partially executed in 
the course of life and history but which always hangs over us as a 
final judgment-to-come in which a full reckoning will be required 
and given. We of today should not find it so hard to recapture some 
of this sense of the urgency and immediacy of judgment if we bethink 
ourselves of the precariousness of our life and the abrupt end to which 
all our activities, individual and collective, may be brought at any 
moment. How large, how significant, how pure, how decent, will 
we and our enterprises appear in the perspective of that moment? 
But that moment is every moment, is now. 30 

The consciousness of God as Judge brings to focus the perennial 
crisis of life. For what is crisis, even in the popular sense, but a crucial 
event demanding decision and entailing judgment? In the more ulti- 
mate sense, it is the divine demand breaking through the routine of 
life, the response to that demand in decision, and the judgment that 

God and Man 79 

follows. The demand may come directly to us in the inner life of 
the spirit or it may arise out of the context of the social and his- 
torical situation here the two meanings of crisis converge; but in 
whatever way it comes, it comes as a call and an obligation. Our re- 
sponse is decision: we may, like Adam, run and try to hide or, like 
Abraham, reply, Here am I. In making our decision in response to 
the call, we bring ourselves and our works under the judgment of a 
power that is not ours but which we cannot help but acknowledge. 
This is the crisis situation call, decision, judgment in which each 
of us stands at every moment of life. 31 It is a situation in which man 
would be utterly lost were it not for the resources of divine love. 

The affirmation of God as Father is one of the oldest expressions 
of Hebraic spirituality and it remains the pervasive and underlying 
conception of rabbinic Judaism through the ages. 3 * The fatherhood 
of God implies both authority and protection, and originally, it seems, 
both were equally stressed. But as, with time, the aspect of authority 
came to be associated with the divine kingship, fatherhood came to 
mean primarily love and mercy, and this in an absolute sense: God 
loves all men, all creatures, even the wicked. Not even sin can annul 
or destroy this relation; on the contrary, it is precisely when man is 
lost in sin and alienated from God that the divine fatherhood means 
so much to him, for it then means the ever-available possibility of 
repentance and return. When Jeremiah, at God's command, bade 
the Israelites repent, a rabbinic commentary tells us, AA they exclaimed 
out of the depths of their despair: "How can we repent? With what 
countenance can we come before him, steeped as we are in our 
wickedness and sin?" Whereupon God commanded the Prophet to 
return and say to the people in the Lord's name: "If you come near 
to me, is it not your Father in heaven that you approach? Will 1 not 
give ear to you, my children?" The fatherhood of God, with the un- 
failing love and tender concern that it implies, is the one sure resource 
we possess against the oppressions of the world and the crushing 
burden of guilt that we in our perversity bring upon ourselves. 

In the liturgy, which so well reveals the profoundest aspects of 
Jewish religion, the appellation of Father is frequently linked to that 
of King, without mitigating the love and tenderness of the one or 
the awe and majesty of the other. It is the final paradox of the tran- 

80 Judaism and Modern Man 

scendent yet always available God, the God who is "supramundane, 
throned high above the world" but never "aloof or inaccessible in his 
remote exaltation." 34 The invocation "Our Father, Our King" thus 
embodies the ultimate reach of Hebraic spirituality: the affirmation 
of the Living God as the supreme power in the life of man. 

It is precisely this ultimate affirmation of God as Father and King 
that has been taken by many modern psychologists, following in the 
tradition of Freud, as their point of vantage for the deflation of re- 
ligion. "Psychoanalysis," Theodor Reik tells us in his significant work 
on ritual, "has proved that the idea of God in the life of the indi- 
vidual and of the people has its origin in the veneration and exaltation 
of the father. . .Psychoanalysis has proved the deity to be the deified 
father." 35 And indeed we must recognize that the connection to which 
the Freudians point is a very real one: who can deny that our think- 
ing about God is in some sense related to the father-image built up 
in infancy and childhood? But while the connection is real, the re- 
lation is in actuality something very different from what the Freudians 

Taking Freud's and Reik's findings at their face value, what do they 
actually prove? Do they prove that God is simply the "deified father," 
that "the idea of God. . .has its origin in the veneration and exaltation 
of the father"?- A moment of sober thought is enough to show how 
unwarranted is such a conclusion. At most, what the findings of psy- 
choanalysis show is that when man comes to think or feel about God, 
he does so In terms of a superfather, transferring to the deity the now 
unconscious images and emotions which in childhood arose in relation 
to the father. This is an important but not particularly subversive 
conclusion; it is, in fact, no more than is implied in the use of Our 
Father as an appellation for God. In trying to express our ideas and 
feelings about God, we must, as we have already seen, necessarily 
employ a vocabulary borrowed from the natural relations of life; to 
use this fact as evidence that God is nothing but what our vocabulary 
literally means is very crude reasoning. A king, too, is a father-sub- 
stitute; so is some very wise and stern teacher. Shall we therefore 
conclude that the "idea of King" or the "idea of Teacher" has its 
origin in "the veneration and exaltation of the father" in the sense 

God and Man 81 

that Teacher and King are nothing but figments of the unconscious 
imagination? Is everything that becomes the object of a father-pro- 
jection to be reduced to illusion simply on that account? Absurd 
as it is, this is precisely the logic of the Freudian argument against God. 

The fact of the matter is that Freud and many of his followers, in 
their positivistic, even materialistic, philosophy of life, which has 
nothing to do with the findings of psychoanalysis, simply assume that 
God is unreal and then, of course, have no difficulty in extracting that 
conclusion from their argument. They do not see that no findings 
of theirs can possibly have any bearing on the reality of God since 
the reality of God is affirmed and has meaning on a level that em- 
pirical inquiry cannot reach. They do not see and that is even more 
remarkable, for psychoanalytic thinkers are generally men of insight 
and penetration that the very tendency to project the father-image 
as God already presupposes an impulse in man toward the divine and 
cannot therefore be used to explain its origin. 36 How could man ever 
come to invent an entirely fictitious entity upon which to project the 
father-image? Is not the universal human propensity to do so itself 
evidence of something in the human mind that points beyond itself? 
One would have thought that the psychoanalyst, with his sensitivity to 
the involutions and subtleties of the human psyche, would be the first 
to see this; yet, as a matter of fact, he has rarely done so. His failure, 
it seems to me, is very largely due to the stultifying effects of the 
pitifully inadequate philosopy that Freud took over from nineteenth- 
century materialism and passed on to his disciples as part of his legacy. 

C. G. Jung is a depth-psychologist who has explicitly rejected the 
materialistic philosophy of earlier days and has taken a positve atti- 
tude to religion, to which he grants considerable place in his system. 
Yet Jung's vindication of religion is strangely ambiguous and equivo- 
cal. This great psychologist relates religion to the "racial archetypes" 
or "primordial images," which he holds to be more basic than rational 
thought. "Thinking in primordial images," he writes, " [is thinking] 
in symbols which are older than historical man, which have been in- 
grained in him from earliest times and, eternally living, outlasting all 
generations, still make up the groundwork of the human psyche. . . 
Wisdom is a return to them. . ," 37 Religion is rooted in these "pri- 
mordial images" of the soul and is for that reason psychologically 

82 Judaism and Modern Man 

justified. Science can raise no objection since, as Jung emphasizes, 
"science and these symbols are incommensurable." 

We need not here inquire as to the validity of the "racial uncon- 
scious" and the other concepts upon which Jung's doctrine seems 
to depend. What is much more important for our purpose is to note 
that the Jungian vindication of religion in terms of "primordial images" 
serves equally well to vindicate any religion, the most pagan and 
idolatrous as well as the purest. The heathen abominations of Canaan 
against which the prophets stormed were presumably as deeply and 
authentically rooted in the "primordial images" of the race as the re- 
ligion of the prophets themselves. And today, Jung's psychological 
profundities provide the apologetic for a loose and undisciplined neo- 
pagan mysticism that is becoming increasingly fashionable as sophisti- 
cated religion for disillusioned moderns. It is, in any case, profoundly 
repugnant to the Hebraic spirit, which looks with deep suspicion on 
the obscure promptings of "natural" religion as essentially pagan and 
grounds its faith not in "racial archetypes" but in the revelation of 
the Living God. 

No, our religious affirmation neither needs nor can make use of 
such vindication. Psychology, both Freudian and Jungian, can throw 
a great deal of valuable light on the various aspects of the religious 
"problem." But the fundamental affirmation of faith comes into being 
on a level of existential reality that not even the deepest of depth- 
psychology can reach. 

In this existential affirmation of faith, which shatters and recon- 
stitutes our very being, we learn with a sureness which no merely 
empirical knowledge can give that there is no reality more potent, 
more pervasive, more directly operative in human life than the power 
of the Living God. It is this power that creates and sustains the uni- 
verse, that calls man into being and endows him with the spirit which 
transforms him from a natural organism into a creature "gifted with 
sight, with knowledge of good and evil," with the capacity for re- 
sponsibility and decision. It is this power which calls us to fellowship 
with the divine in humility, faith and obedience and at the same time 
stands in judgment over every human enterprise that is not single- 
mindedly ordered to the service of God. It is this power that, as divine 
anger, condemns us to wretchedness and despair whenever, out of 

God and Man 83 

sinful pride, we defy God and deny his sovereign will. But it is also 
this power that, as divine mercy, offers us the unfailing resource of 
grace by which we may, if we will, be saved from the utter forlornness 
of a life cut off from God. It is this power that gives meaning and 
promise of fulfilment to life amidst its confusions, frustrations and de- 
feats and thus provides us with a transcendent security that nothing 
can shake. The Living God, in the Hebraic faith, is indeed the be- 
ginning and end of everything. Without Him, there is no life, no hope, 
no meaning; with Him in love and obedience to Him life is trans- 
figured and begins to assume the quality and dimensions which belong 
to it in the order of creation. 


i Bertrand Russell, "A Free Man's Worship," Mysticism and Logic 
(Norton: New York, 1929), p. 48. 

2. Pascal, Pensees, No. 434. 

3. Friednch Engels, Dialectics of Nature (International Publishers: New 
York, 1940), p. 87. 

4. "For the Hebrew, man is not a being composed of two distinct and 
separable entities body and soul but an unanalyzed complex psycho- 
physical unity . . . The Hebrew conception of the personality of man is 
that of an unbroken integrated unity which is identified with the 
animated body . . . The Hebrew, unlike the Greek, recognizes no anti- 
thesis between flesh and soul . . . Soul and body are interfused with a 
completeness which it is difficult for us to understand . . . For the Hebrew, 
there is no antithesis between the outward and the inward, the physical 
and the psychical, the material and the spiritual . . . The psychical is 
unknown apart from the physical centers through which it is mani- 
fested . . . Man's personality is always identified with the animated body; 
hence it is always conceived as an indivisible organism functioning as an 
integrated unity . . . ." Harold Knight, The Hebrew Prophetic Conscious- 
ness (Lutterworth: London, 1947), pp. 8, 10, 11, 51, 67, 125. See also 
Otto J. Baab, The Theology of the Old Testament (Abingdon-Cokesbury: 
Nashville, Tenn., 1949), pp. 65, 66, 68, 214, 264. 

5. This many psychoanalytic writers, following Freud, seem to forget 
when they tend to picture all "drives" emerging from the id as instinctual 
impulses of a simple biological character. In man, there are no simply 

84 Judaism and Modern Man 

biological, instinctual impulses; in man, every natural impulse is trans- 
formed into a spiritual force. 

6. Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death (Princeton University: 
Princeton, N. J., 1941), p. 17. 

7. Martin Buber, / and Thou (T. & T. Clark: Edinburgh, 1937), p. 20: 
"Through the Thou a man becomes an /." 

"The 'I* can be personal . . . only when it is confronted by a Thou.' 
To live personally means to live in responsibility and love." Emil Brunner. 
The Divine Imperative (Westminster: Philadelphia, 1947), p. 191. 

8. "It is only through God's calling Adam, 'Where art thou?', that the 
latter's 'Here I am' reveals to man, in the answer, his being as related to 
God. The ego is at the outset wrapped up in itself and dumb; it waits 
for its being called directly by God and indirectly by the neighbor." 
Thus Karl Lowith summarizes the teaching of Franz Rosenzweig on man's 
responsive nature. "M. Heidegger and F. Rosenzweig," Philosophy and 
Phenomenological Research, Vol. Ill (September, 1942), No. 1. 

9. Buber, / and Thou, p. 39. 

10. Buber, / and Thou, pp 6, 75 and passim; Between Man and Man 
(Kegan Paul: London, 1947), pp. 43, 50, 97 and passim. "He to whom 
and by whom the word is spoken is, in the full sense of the word, a 
person. . . .In order to speak to man, God must become a person; but 
in order to speak to him, he must make him too a person. This human 
person not only adopts the word; it also answers." Buber, The Prophetic 
Faith (Macmillan: New York, 1949), pp. 164-65. 

1 1. Ernst Simon refers to the "salient point which distinguishes the people 
of the ear and obedience from the people of the eye and imitation, Israel 
from Hellas." "Notes on Jewish Wit," Jewish Frontier, Vol XV (Oc- 
tober, 1948), No. 10. 

12. F. J. E. Woodbndge, An Essay on Nature (Columbia University: 
New York, 1940), p. 279. 

13. A. J. Heschel, Die Prophetic (Polish Academy of Sciences: Cracow, 
1936), p. 50. 

14. E. A. Burtt, "Does Humanism Understand Man?" The Humanist, 
Vol. V (Autumn [Oct.], 1945), No. 3, "Humanism and the Doctrine of 
Sin," The Humanist, Vol. V (Winter [Jan.], 1946), No. 4. 

15. "The unformulated primal theological principle of the Garden of 
Eden story about the divine-human relationship [is] . . . that created man 
has been provided by the Creator's breath with real power of decision 
and so is able actually to oppose YHVH's commanding will . . . ." Buber, 
Prophetic Faith, p. 103. 

16. "In its inner aspects, sin is [held by the prophets to be] revolt against 
the authority of God, failure to recognize his sovereignty, disobedience to 
a higher will, because man places his own will or the sovereignty of some- 
one else above the sovereign power of Almighty God. In its outer aspect, 
sin is a deviation from a moral standard set up by God." J. Philip Hyatt, 

God and Man 85 

Prophetic Religion (Abingdon-Cokesbury: Nashville, Tenn., 1947), pp. 

IT.'This image [of God in man] is defaced by sin." Solomon Schechter, 
"The History of Jewish Tradition," Studies in Judaism: First Series (Jew- 
ish Publication Society: Philadelphia, 1945), p. 199. 

18. "It is the condition of the sailor climbing the mast (to use a simile), 
with the abyss of the waves beneath him and the 'crow's nest' above him. 
He is anxious about both the end toward which he strives and the abyss 
of nothingness into which he may fall." Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature 
and Destiny of Man (Scribner's: New York, 1941), I, 185. 

19. See Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, I. chaps, 
vii and vm, esp. pp. 178-79. 

20. Schechter, "Saints and Samtliness," Studies in Judaism: Second Series, 
p. 167. 

21. Schechter, Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (Macmillan: New 
York, 1909), pp. 243, 262. 

22. George Foot Moore, Judaism (Harvard University: Cambridge, 
Mass., 1927), I, 484. 

"From the moment a man is born, the evil yetzer clings to him." Abot 
de Rabbi Nathan, 32; Schechter, Some Aspects, p. 255. 

"The inclination of man's heart is evil from his youth." Gen. 8:21. 

"The criminal," says David Abrahamsen (Crime and the Human Mind 
[Columbia University: New York, 1944], p. 59), "acts as the child would 
act if the child was permitted to." 

23. Schechter, Some Aspects, pp. 254-55. 

24. B. Sukkah 52. 

25. B. Yoma 38; C. G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology 
(Macmillan- London, 1938), p. 293. 

"The underlying idea of these T rabbinic] passages, which can be multi- 
plied by any number of parallel passages, is man's consciousness of his 
helplessness against the powers of temptation, which can only be over- 
come by the grace of God." Schechter, Some Aspects, p. 280. 

26. T. S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men," Collected Poems (Harcourt, Brace: 
New York, 1936), p. 104. 

"The act shows forth its essence beyond itself. However free it may 
be in its intention, however pure m its appearance, it is at the mercy of 
its own consequences. The most exalted act, entering the world without 
the slightest regard for causality, is dragged along in its wake just as soon 
as it sees the light." Buber, Der heihge Weg (Literarische Anstalt Riitten 
& Loenmg: Frankfort, 1920), pp. 23-24. 

27. "Rousseauistic" and "Calvmistic" are here used conventionally. Rous- 
seau himself apparently had a rather more complex view of human nature 
(A. O. Lovejoy, "The Supposed Pnmitivism of Rousseau," Essays in the 
History of Ideas [Johns Hopkins: Baltimore, 1948] ), while Calvin, though 

88 Judaism and Modern Man 

to religion as well, for Judaism insists that religion and ethics are 
not ultimately separable represent two radically opposed attitudes 
to life and the world. All attempts to combine and reconcile them 
must in the end prove futile. We in our time still use much of the 
religious vocabulary derived from Hebraic sources, but, at bottom, 
our ethical thinking, insofar as it is systematic and reflective, is domi- 
nated by the Greek-rationalist tradition. This is true even for modern 
positivism, which makes such a violent gesture at repudiating "meta- 

What is the essential Greek-rationalist view and how does it differ 
from the ethics of Hebraic religion? Despite all secondary variations, 
Greek thought, and the thought that follows in Greek paths, holds 
to the fundamental idea that ethics the principles of right and wrong, 
of good and evil can be deduced by reason from the nature of things, 
including the nature of man. Nature reveals to the mind the true 
values of human life and therefore also man's duties and responsi- 
bilities. "Follow nature" seems to be the first and last word of Greek 
ethics, however variously nature is interpreted. The true prescrip- 
tions of morality are conceived to be essentially "laws of nature" and 
it is for human reason to discover and obey them. 

In this rationalist scheme, religion is only incidental. Reason 
teaches man his duties and responsibilities, among which are certain 
duties he owes to the gods: these constitute religion in its formal as- 
pect. Religion in Greek thought, if it is not altogether ignored, is thus 
relegated to the status of a rather minor subdivision of ethics. 

Greek ethical rationalism may therefore be said to exhibit two 
crucial features. On the one hand, it relies upon reason to derive 
moral principles from the nature of things, or, as we would put it, 
to extract values and obligations from what are held to be facts, meta- 
physical or empirical. On the other hand, it converts religion into a 
mere branch of the ethical system thus derived. In effect, human 
reason is omnipotent and autonomous; it is a law unto itself. Both 
of these aspects of Greek rationalism have had a powerful influence 
on Western thought; even Kant, who challenged the former, only the 
more emphatically reiterated the latter. 

Modern criticism has called into question the possibility of de- 
ducing value from fact. From mere facts nothing but facts can ever 

God and Man 89 

be derived. The distinction between that which is and that which 
ought to be is the starting point of all ethics; no one, however, can 
possibly infer the latter from the former. Earlier thinkers who claimed 
to be able to perform this intellectual miracle can be shown to have 
accomplished their result by a kind of logical sleight of hand. 1 Not 
only did they use the word "nature" ambiguously, sometimes to desig- 
nate how things actually are and at other times to imply how things 
ought to be; they also unwittingly introduced affirmations of value in 
a line of argument supposedly dealing only with fact. Strangely 
enough, they did not see that had they really succeeded in proving 
that moral principles could be derived from the facts of existence, 
they would have destroyed the imperative nature of these principles. 
Fact are facts; they must be acknowledged as facts, but no one is 
obliged to approve of them unless he starts with the principle that 
"whatever is, is right." 

Boas has well formulated the conclusion of modern critical thought 
in this respect. "That one cannot argue from existence to value," he 
says, "has become almost a philosophic dogma and the break between 
the two realms would seem to be absolute as far as deduction is con- 
cerned. . . .We could theoretically state the conditions under which 
evaluations are made and explain psychologically why they are made. 
But that does not 'reduce' values to facts. . . ." 2 If this is the case, 
and it is hard to see how this conclusion can be disputed, not only 
is traditional rationalism deprived of the ground it stands on but the 
attempts still being made to validate ethics "scientifically" are called 
into serious question. For exactly the same fallacies and confusions 
are involved. Not so long ago the "social Darwinists" tried to justify 
imperialism and capitalism on the ground that these were in line with 
the "struggle for existence" in biologic evolution. At about the same 
time, Kropotkin turned the argument around and built up a case for 
libertarian socialism from the tendencies to "mutual aid" that he found 
in nature. In both cases, the argument proved nothing. The course 
of biologic evolution may conceivably show us how life has developed 
hitherto but it cannot possibly prove that any line of human action 
is right or wrong, good or evil. We are back again to the old fallacy: 
"nature" is simply fact, and not all fact, obviously, is to be morally 
approved simply because it is fact. Nature may be "red in tooth and 

92 Judaism and Modern Man 

values that form the moral foundation of our civilization. Without the 
life-giving power of the faith out of which they have sprung, they 
possess neither meaning nor vitality. Morality ungrounded in God 
is indeed a house built upon sand, unable to stand up against the va- 
garies of impulse and the brutal pressures of power and self-interest. 


Judaism relates the ethical obligation to man's free obedience to 
God. Man's freedom his capacity for genuine decision is taken 
as fundamental, for without it there could be neither religion nor 
ethics. Even under the bondage of sin, man does not lose this freedom; 
even God's providence is no denial of it. "All is foreseen," we are 
told, "yet freedom of choice is given." "Everything is in the hand of 
Heaven except the fear of Heaven." 9 

Human freedom has always been a great paradox for philosopher 
and theologian. Neither Plato nor the modern naturalist can find a 
place for it in his system. As we have seen, contemporary naturalism 
regards man as simply part of nature and therefore does not hesitate 
to insert him into a scheme of causal determinism that leaves no room 
for freedom, reason or moral responsibility. For all its "idealism," 
the Platonic tradition leaves man in but little better plight. In this 
tradition, it will be recalled, the body is the principle of evil, while the 
mind, or reason, is the principle of good. The two are in perpetual 
conflict. It is a struggle in which "the victory of reason over the pas- 
sions, or its defeat by them, depends entirely upon the relative strength 
or weakness of these two contestants. If, therefore, we had a gauge by 
which we could measure the relative strength or weakness of mind and 
body, we could at any given moment predict the outcome of the con- 
flict between them . . . For man there is no choice in the matter . . . 
There is no such third factor as a will, conceived as something au- 
tonomous . . ." 10 

If man is to have a "choice in the matter," some very different 
frame of reference is required, and that frame of reference we find in 
the religious philosophy of Judaism. Man possesses freedom and the 
power of decision because he is more than merely part of nature and 
therefore transcends the limitations of causal determinism, not simply 

God and Man 93 

the scientific determinism of naturalist philosophy but also the "ideal- 
istic" determinism of Plato. In the Jewish view, there is no situation 
in which man finds himself that is without some margin of freedom 
of decision and responsibility. Man possesses a will which, however 
conditioned by external factors of nature and society, however distort- 
ed by sin, is yet, in the final analysis, free and self-determining. 11 As 
Philo puts it and here Philo is true to his Judaism and at sharp vari- 
ance with his master, Plato God gave to man a portion "of that free 
will which is his most peculiar possession and most worthy of his ma- 
jesty." Man's freedom, the power by which he is raised above natural 
determinism, is thus "nothing but a part of God's own freedom, with 
which man is endowed by God." 12 It is the "image of God" in man, 
full of infinite potentiality for good or evil. 

Whether this freedom operates for the one or the other depends, in 
the Jewish view, upon man's basic orientation, upon the direction of 
his will, upon the placement of his love. Man is meant for fellowship 
with God; that is his "essential nature" in creation. He is meant to 
walk with his Creator in humility and love. He is meant to conduct 
his life in the ever-present awareness of the divine source and center 
of his being. This, as we have seen, is the significance of the Scrip- 
tural account of the blissful life in Paradise before the Fall. It is the 
normative condition of human existence, bringing peace and harmony 
within and without. 

This peace is lost and this harmony disrupted the moment man, in 
the exercise of his freedom, turns away from God and thus denies his 
own essential nature and the law of his being. Such is the meaning 
of sin the "original" sin of Adam (man) in Paradise and the sin of 
each of us throughout our lives. 

But man cannot go on without some ultimate to give substance and 
meaning to life. Having, in the wilfulness of sin, turned away from the 
Living God, he is driven to seek for a ground of existence in what is 
not God. This is idolatry. 

Idolatry, in Jewish thinking, is the root source of all wrongdoing 
and moral evil. 13 But to grasp the full scope and significance of this 
principle it is necessary to understand the essential meaning of idolatry. 
Idolatry is not simply the worship of sticks and stones, or it would ob- 

94 Judaism and Modern Man 

viously have no relevance to our times. Idolatry is the absolutization 
of the relative; it is absolute devotion paid to anything short of the 
Absolute. The object of idolatrous worship may be, and in fact gen- 
erally is, some good; but, since it is not God, it is necessarily a good 
that is only partial and relative. 14 What idolatry does is to convert 
its object into an absolute, thereby destroying the partial good within 
it and transforming it into a total evil. Jewish tradition tells us that 
idols are both "vanities" and "demons." They are "vanities" because 
they are foolishness, illusory in their unreal and unwarranted claims 
to independent being. They are "demons" because, as the objects of 
such absolute worship, they become sources of corruption and chaos, 
of violence and perversion, in human life. No wonder Judaism has 
always had such a horror of idolatry and has made rejection of it cen- 
tral to all its codes, even to those which, like the so-called Noahite 
laws, were conceived as binding upon non-Israelites as well. 

Contemporary life is idolatry-ridden to an appalling degree. Man, 
it cannot be too often repeated, must fix his devotion and anchor his 
being in something ultimate, and if it is not the Living God, it will 
be some spurious substitute. "It is impossible to be a man and not 
bow down to something," Dostoevski says in A Raw Youth. "Such a 
man could not bear the burden of himself ... If he rejects God, then 
he bows down to an idol . . . fashioned of wood or of gold or of 
thought. . . ." The vacuum created by the decay of traditional religion 
in our time has been filled by the influx of a legion of devils demand- 
ing idolatrous worship. 

Even the ancient nature cults find their representation in modern 
idolatry. What is the cult of "life" as we find it under various guises 
in the Romantics, in Nietzsche, in the ecstatic worship of sex and the 
"dark forces" of instinct, and most crassly perhaps, in the Nazi reli- 
gion of "blood and soil," but an orgiastic exaltation of the powers and 
vitalities of nature that recalls the frenzied "nature" rite of long ago? 
But the dominant idolatries of our time are not so much the primi- 
tivistic cults of "nature" as the cults of collective man and objectified 
ideas. Race, nation, empire, class, state or party, even church and 
humanity, these are among the gods who claim the allegiance of 
modern man; so are science, culture, social reform, progress. Each 
of these things represents a significant and valuable aspect of human 

God and Man 95 

life; each of them, however, becomes delusive and demonic once it is 
absolutized and exalted into the god of our existence. 

Even so useful a thing as scientific research may be idolized and 
turned into a demonic force of destruction. When "scientific truth" 
which is, after all, no more than the accurate reporting of what hap- 
pens under specified conditions is held to be the only or the ultimate 
truth, and its acquisition is exalted into the be-all and end-all of ex- 
istence, what is there to inhibit anyone from treating the rest of man- 
kind as so much material to be manipulated or expended as science 
may dictate? How, in terms of the value-system of science taken as 
ultimate, can we condemn or criticize such overzealous devotees of 
pursuit of "scientific truth"? The squeamishness that recoils from 
treating human beings as guinea pigs is felt to be nothing more than 
irrational sentimentality obstructing the progress of science, and if sci- 
ence and scientific method are, indeed, absolutes, all such obstacles 
must obviously be brushed aside. The horrible barbarities practiced 
under the Nazi regime by German scientists in the name of scientific 
research arise to remind us that the logic of science absolutized is not 
merely theoretical but possesses a monstrous actuality in the present- 
day world. 

Our modern world is as filled with idolatry as the world ever was, 
but our modern idolatry differs from the idolatries of the pagan world 
in a way more fundamental than mere difference in what we tend to 
idolize. Pagan idolaters worship their idols directly and unashamedly; 
they know no higher law. We, on the contrary, whose entire culture 
is permeated with the "God-idea" of Judaism and Christianity, can- 
not simply convert our false absolutes into acknowledged idols. We 
generally carry idolatry a step further. We convert God himself into 
an idol, or rather we make God into the sanctifier and protector of the 
idols we really love with all our heart and all our might. We speak 
of God and honor him, but the god we are really honoring, what is 
he but the god whom we look to to promote our interests and guar- 
antee our ideals? Our modern idolatries are thus like the Baal prac- 
tices of the Israelites in Canaan, modes of everyday life rather than 
explicit confessions of faith. 16 They are, perhaps, all the more danger- 
ous on that account. 

It is this idolatry that is the root source of our sin and wrongdoing. 

96 Judaism and Modern Man 

Ultimately, all idolatry is worship of the self projected and objectified: 
all idolization is self-idolization, individual or collective. In exalting 
the natural vitalities of life, we exalt and lose ourselves in the vitalities 
of our own nature. In absolutizing the collectivities or movements of 
which we form part, we but absolutize ourselves writ large. In pro- 
claiming as ultimate the ideas and programs to which we are devoted, 
we are but proclaiming the work of our minds to be the final truth 
of life. In the last analysis, the choice is only between love of God and 
love of self, between a God-centered and ^//-centered existence. 16 
Sin is egocentricity as against f/zeocentricity. It is, in effect, denying 
God and making oneself, in direct or indirect form, the god of one's 
universe. 17 

The ultimate imperative of Jewish ethics is, therefore, the affirma- 
tion of the Living God and the repudiation of idolatry. It is an im- 
perative that is not really ethical at all, but religious: "Thou shalt love 
the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy 
might" (Deut. 6:5). With the love of God thus enjoined, love of self 
is entirely incompatible. 18 Love of God is love exclusive in its claim 
because God cannot be made to share his ultimacy. The universe of 
our existence can have but one source and center, and if that source 
and center is not entirely God, it is not God at all but the self. 

Exclusive love in the absolute sense is the claim that God makes 
upon man. It is a claim that we perceive only in faith and can meet 
only because we are empowered with God's gracious love for us. The 
exclusive love which the Bible requires is a responsive love, a love of 
which we are capable only when we come to realize how infinite is the 
lovingkindness which God manifests to us. The claim is thus a claim 
of love; but once acknowledged in faith, it calls for unfaltering loyalty 
and obedience: "And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God 
require of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, 
to love him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul" 
(Deut. 10:12). This obligation under which man is placed is a great 
and fearful one, for it is nothing less than a call to perfection. "Walk 
before me and be perfect" (Gen. 17:1), are the words in which Scrip- 
ture records God's injunction to Abraham, and his words to Abraham 
are his words to all of us. It is a call to holiness: "You shall be holy 

God and Man 97 

for I the Lord your God am holy" (Lev. 19:2). It is, in short, a call 
to the imitation of God. 19 

The imitation of God may be taken as the operative formula of 
Jewish ethics. But imitation of God, walking in his ways, is never to 
be confused with the sinful and presumptuous effort to be "like unto 
God." It is to be imitation, no impersonation. The difference, rab- 
binical sources suggest, is like the difference between loving and obedi- 
ent subjects who conform their will to the will of their king, on the 
one hand, and rebels who strive to set themselves up as rivals or even 
to usurp his throne, on the other. The primary condition indeed, the 
presupposition and yet at the same time the final flower of a life 
acceptable to God is humility. 

All Scripture, all tradition, unite in extolling humility and in de- 
nouncing pride and presumption as the cardinal sin. Pride means 
"man setting himself up as an idol"; "it is tantamount to a defiance 
of God . . . and this corresponds to idol-worship"; it is "the mortal 
sin." 20 On the other hand, humility is proclaimed in the Talmud to be 
"the greatest of the ten steps in the ascent of the righteous." 21 Even 
Maimonides, who is otherwise so taken with the Aristotelian ethic 
and the "golden mean," draws the line when it comes to this most 
characteristic of Hebraic virtues. "There are," he states, "some dispo- 
sitions in regard to which it is wrong to pursue a middle course, but 
the contrary extreme is to be embraced, as for instance in respect to 
pride. One does not follow the proper path by merely being humble. 
Men should be very humble and extremely meek. To this end Scrip- 
ture says of Moses our Teacher that he was Very meek' (Num. 12:3) 
. . . Therefore the command of the Sages is, 'Be thou very humble' 
(M. Abot 4.4), and they say furthermore that all who are proud- 
hearted deny an important principle of our faith. . . ," 22 

Humility is so central in Jewish ethics that "the man who has a 
taint of pride or insolence, though he be righteous and upright in all 
other respects," is held to be "worth nothing." 23 On the other hand, 
"whosoever abases himself, him God will exalt." 24 Self-righteousness 
that is, righteousness without humility must therefore be regarded 
as the most insidious and most dangerous form of pride: "Even if 
thou art perfect in all other respects, thou failest if thou hast no hu- 
mility in thee." 26 When it reaches such a stage, humility is no longer 

98 Judaism and Modern Man 

simply a moral virtue; it transcends ethics, it is the shattering aware- 
ness of one's utter nothingness in the face of a holy God. 

Walking in the ways of God in faith and humility means the love of 
fellow-man. Abba Saul expounds Exodus 15:2, which he reads "1 
will imitate him," as meaning: "As he [God] is gracious and merciful, 
be thou gracious and merciful." 20 With the injunction to love God is 
linked the command to love our neighbor as ourself, and the two are 
not two but one. 27 It is the love of God that, in its fulness, gives us 
the power to love our fellow-men in the radical sense required by the 
commandment: 28 we love with the love wherewith we are loved. On 
the other hand, as Buber points out, 29 it is only by achieving a "legiti- 
mate relation" to our neighbor that we can achieve such relation to 
God. The self that defies God by exalting itself into the center of all 
life is necessarily driven to wrong other men by striving to debase 
them into instrumentalities of its own paramount interests. It is from 
these insights, crucial to Hebraic religion, that the humanitarian and 
social-reform impulse of Western civilization is derived. 

But why can we not affirm the law of love of fellow-man on its own 
ground without involving ourselves in any commitment about God? 
This is the question which the humanists of all ages have converted 
into the basis of their ethic without religion. It is, however, a basis 
that will not hold the superstructure erected upon it. For what ground 
is there for the affirmation of the love of fellow-man simply as such? 
Why love one's neighbor as oneself, especially when one's neighbor 
frequently turns out to be so unlovable? Because, says the humanist 
who has seen through the folly of the argument from self-interest, we 
are all human and are therefore as such entitled to the same treatment. 
But in virtue of what are we all human? Humanists have given vary- 
ing answers to this question, but, by and large, these answers may be 
grouped under two heads: (a) we are all human because we are all 
rational; and (b) we are all human because we all possess a moral 
sense. It is reason, moral sense or both that are felt to define human 
beings as human and to distinguish them from the rest of creation. 
But note, although we may all be rational, we are not all equally 
rational; although we may all possess a moral sense, we are not all 
equally endowed with that faculty. Some of us are more rational than 

God and Man 99 

others, some morally more sensitive and cultivated than others. From 
which it follows that even if we are in the abstract all human, some 
are in fact more human than others. And this is true no matter what 
attribute is taken as defining humanness. An ethic grounded in hu- 
manistic premises thus leads inescapably to the conclusion that human 
beings are entitled to treatment in accord with the law of love only to 
the degree that they exhibit or embody the human-making quality. 
But this, of course, is the very denial of the law of love. There is no 
avoiding the conclusion that only in relation to the transcendent God 
who is our Father a relation which humanism can make nothing of 
do men come to possess the human character that binds them in 

The incompatability of the law of love with the humanistic scheme 
of ethics would be much more obvious were not our contemporary 
humanists so thoroughly imbued with the moral values of the Judeo- 
Christian tradition which they have taken over with their cultural 
heritage; yet occasionally we do get a glimpse of what humanism in its 
pure form implies. Thus, Julien Benda, the eminent French publicist, 

I speak of the person insofar as he presents the moral character- 
istics of the human species. My position and here I am in op- 
position to the Church and to a certain type of democracy for 
which any man is sacred by reason solely of the fact that he pre- 
sents the anatomical characteristics of the species my position 
is that the human person has a right to this designation, and in 
consequence to the respect it implies, only if he has been capable 
of raising himself to a certain level of morality, one that consists 
precisely in respecting this personality in others let us say if 
he has been able to rise to the conception of the rights of man. 
This amounts to saying that while I do not admit the concept of 
biological races, I do admit that of moral races. 30 

To hold a human being to be human only "insofar as he presents 
the moral characteristics of the human species" in other words, the 
affirmation of the insufferably self-righteous doctrine of "moral races" 
is precisely the logic of humanistic ethics, but it is utterly repugnant 
to the meaning of love as that is understood in Hebraic religion. In 
the great Hillel's understanding, "love of man . . . was an ideal only 
if it was universal in intent and extension; otherwise it was cant of the 

100 Judaism and Modern Man 

worst sort. 81 To the rabbis, it implies not merely loving one's neigh- 
bor (Lev. 19:18), not merely loving the "stranger" (Deut. 10:19), 
but also loving one's enemy. It means long-suffering, forgiveness and 
the return of good for evil. "They shall see the majesty of God," the 
Talmud tells us, "who meet with humiliation but do not humiliate, 
who bear insult but do not inflict it on others, who endure a life of 
suffering for the pure love of God." 32 The passage in Proverbs 25:21- 
22, which enjoins us to give our enemy food and drink, R. Hanina in- 
terprets to mean that even if the enemy come to our house to slay us 
and he is hungry and thirsty, we are to give him food and drink! 33 
There is no break in this tradition. The great moral teacher of the 
last century, R. Israel Salanter, insisted on the same doctrine and 
grounded it in the same principle. "Imitation of God is explicitly 
commanded in the Torah" thus Professor Ginzberg reports Salanter's 
teaching 34 "and accordingly it is our duty not only to confer an 
act of kindness upon those who have done harm to us but to do it at 
the very moment we are wronged. God is kind to the sinner at the 
time of his sin, since without the kindness of God that gives him life 
and strength he would not be able to sin, and we are to imitate him 
and so be like him. We must be kind to those who sin against us at the 
time of their wrongdoing." 

Love of one's fellow-man, in Jewish tradition, is associated with 
an abiding sense of the dignity and worth of every individual human 
being as a person. It is a dignity and worth that man can claim not 
by virtue of his own merit but as the gracious gift of God. The worth 
and quality of the individual person are proclaimed in the Mishnah 
in a passage, part of which I have already quoted: 

Therefore but a single man was created in the world, to teach 
that it any man has caused a single soul to perish Scripture im- 
putes it to him as though he had caused the whole world to 
perish; and if man saves alive a single soul Scripture imputes it 
to him as though he had saved alive the whole world . . . For 
man stamps many coins with the one seal and they are all like 
one another; but the King of Kings, the Holy One blessed is He, 
has stamped every man with the seal of the first man, yet not 
one of them is like his fellow. Therefore every one must say, 
For my sake was the world created. 85 

Every man is thus proclaimed to use the Kantian formula obvious- 

God and Man 101 

ly derived from the Hebraic tradition to be, in relation to other men, 
an end in himself, though all men are ordained to God. Every man is 
a self, a subject, a person, a Thou 36 and it is an offense against God 
to attempt to convert him into a thing, an object, an It, to be used 
for another's advantage. 

Every man, as the bearer of the divine image, is endowed with free- 
dom, self-determination and responsibility. Because every human be- 
ing is of infinite worth in God's love "A single person is equal 
[in value] to the entire universe," R. Nehemiah says 37 men are es- 
sentially and intrinsically equal. Judaism knows nothing of the blas- 
phemous doctrine of racialism, regardless of whether the lines along 
which mankind is alleged to be divided are biological, as in Nazi 
doctrine, or "moral," as in the teaching of certain self-righteous 
"democrats." All men have been created in the divine image and are 
therefore equally entitled to our love and respect: that is the unshak- 
able principle of Jewish ethics. 38 

If man is enjoined to subordinate the self in love of God and fellow- 
man, it is not because personality is evil and deserving of repression. 
On the contrary, the self really comes into its own only when, through 
transcending its own obsessive concerns and interests, it has achieved 
fellowship with God. It is in perfect abnegation that human personal- 
ity attains its highest reach. "Is it thy wish not to die? Die; so that 
thou needst not die. Is it thy wish to live? Do not live; so that thou 
mayest live."'" Life self -fulfilment like "peace of mind," cannot be 
gained by being directly striven for; it comes as the fruit of devoted, 
selfless service to God and man. 

Jewish ethics is an ethic of perfection, for its goal and standard is 
nothing short of the perfect love of God and the perfect imitation of 
his ways. It is also an ethic of inwardness. It distinguishes carefully 
between the inward aspect of the moral act the intent, the disposi- 
tion ot the heart or direction of the will and the outward part. Kav- 
vanah, intention or inwardness, is held essential for every act directed 
toward God, and it is this intention that gives the act its moral quality: 
"Alike are he who does much and he who does little if only the heart 
be directed to Heaven." 40 What is true of actions to be performed 
is also true of sin. Sinful "thoughts" that is, sinful intentions, a per- 

102 Judaism and Modern Man 

verse will are regarded as constituting the sin itself. 41 It is the di- 
rection of the will toward or away from God that is decisive. 

Yet this fundamental truth must not be so interpreted as to imply 
that it makes no difference whether the sinful impulse is or is not given 
free play in action, or in what kind of action it is expressed. It makes 
a vast difference, not only from the point of view of society but from 
the point of view of the inner moral life of the individual as well. 
The capacity for self-control, the ability to master one's sinful im- 
pulses and deal with them constructively, is itself a crucial moral 
power. It may not represent the highest reach of the moral life and 
it is only too easily converted into a source of self-righteousness, but 
it is an indispensable factor in any ethical system which permits dis- 
crimination between one course of action and another. 

Purity of heart is solely dependent upon love of God, which alone 
can purge the heart of evil "thoughts" and impulses. From this abso- 
lute point of view, envy is theft, anger is murder, and looking at an- 
other woman with desire is adultery. But in the relativities of life, 
a distinction must be made not only between the evil impulse that is 
kept under control and the evil impulse that is carried out into action 
but also between the various ways in which the same impulse may find 
expression in human behavior. Impulse and action, inwardness and 
externality, are organically related but they are not the same thing. 
If it is mistaken to separate the action from the "thought" and hold 
the former alone to be morally relevant, as some utilitarian systems 
do, it is no less mistaken to identify the two in such a way that action 
becomes morally indifferent. Jewish ethics, with its emphasis on the 
motives of the heart and its concern for the actions of men, has shown 
itself able to preserve the tension between the inner and the outer, the 
absolute and the relative. 


1. "No sense of obligation can be evolved from the actual constitution of 
humanity without some logical sharp practice. It is impossible to define 

God and Man 103 

what man ought to be from that which he actually is." Emil Brunner, The 
Divine Imperative (Westminster: Philadelphia, 1947), p. 40. 

2. George Boas, "The Irrational," Journal of Philosophy, Vol. XLIV 
(February 13, 1947), No. 4. 

3. T. H. Huxley, "Evolution and Ethics" (1893), republished in Touch- 
stone for Ethics, ed. Julian Huxley (Harper: New York, 1947). But from 
the "ruthlessness" of nature, the great evolutionist thinker does not con- 
clude that man, too, "following" nature, must be ruthless. "Social pro- 
gress," he emphasizes, "means the checking of the cosmic process at every 
step and the substitution for it of another which may be called the ethical 

4. Morris Weitz, "Philosophy and the Abuse of Language," Journal of 
Philosophy, Vol. XLIV (September 25, 1947), No. 20. 

5. Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (Simon & Schuster: 
New York, 1945), p. 494. 

6. See Julian Huxley, "Religion and Science," Essays of a Biologist; 
"Science, Natural or Social," Man in the Modern World. 

V. F. Lenzen, in his paper "Philosophy of Science," Twentieth Century 
Philosophy (Philosophical Library: New York, 1943), p. 120, emphasizes 
the same point: "Except insofar as knowledge is sought for its own sake, 
science is an extrinsic value. Natural science, at least, does not determine 
the intrinsic value of ends that are to be achieved by its application. Sci- 
ence may indicate how to realize an end but does not furnish the test 
whether it is intrinsically good or bad." 

7. R. Thomte, Kierkegaard's Philosophy of Religion (Princeton Univers- 
ity: Princeton, N. J., 1948), p. 111. 

"An ethical decision is itself an act of faith." Dorothy M. Emmet, 
"Kierkegaard and the 'Existential' Philosophy," Philosophy, Vol. XVI 
(July, 1941), No. 63. 

Naturalistic attempts to reduce ethics to science by a genetic account 
of the development of conscience are all based on the device of equating 
a phenomenon with the conditions under which it occurs. This, as 
Boas points out, "makes for simplicity of technique but for . . . con- 
fusion of thought" (Boas, op. cit.). Thus Freud, for example, identifies 
the conscience with the superego and traces the latter to the Oedipus 
complex. But it is clear that the Oedipus complex that is, the child's 
early relations to his parents could never have developed into a mental 
agency issuing moral judgments were not man already possessed of 
the need and capacity for moral judgment. Thus the Freudian "explana- 
tion" of the conscience really presupposes conscience in man. Freud 
seems to recognize this difficulty (Civilization and its Discontents 
[Hogarth: London, 1930], p. 119), but his efforts to extricate himself 
fiom it (p. 120) are by no means impressive. Edmun'd Bergler, though 
an orthodox Freudian, is more circumspect. "The religious and scientific 

104 Judaism and Modern Man 

approaches to the genesis of conscience," he writes, "start of necessity 
at different points. The religious approach assumes a manifestation of 
God as the basis of conscience. The scientific approach describes 
clinically observable facts. There is no contradiction between the two 
approaches." The Battle of the Conscience (Washington Institute of 
Medicine: Washington, D. C., 1948), p. 1. 

8. Josephus, To the Hellenes (Against Apion), ii, sec. 18. 

9. M. Abot 3.19; B. Berakot 33b (cf. B. Megillah 25a). 

"In creating his creature, God, who is Omnipotence, gave it freedom 
of action, by virtue of which it can turn to or from him, act for or against 
him." Martin Buber, "In the Midst of History," Israel and the World 
(Schocken: New York, 1948), p. 79. 

10. H. A. Wolfson, Philo (Harvard University: Cambridge, Mass., 1947), 
I, 430-31. Wolfson is here describing the Platonic view. 

1 1 . Even Augustine, with all his emphasis on the bondage of sinful man, 
recognizes this: "Who of us, however, would like to assert that, through 
the sin of the first man, free decision has disappeared from the human 
race? . . . Free decision has been so little lost in the sinner that it is pre- 
cisely by its aid that men sin" (quoted in Brunner, Man in Revolt [West- 
minister: Philadelphia, 1947], p. 268). 

12. Quoted by Wolfson, op. cit., I, 436, 455. 

13. "According to Jewish tradition, the basis of all moral evil is idolatry" 
(Wolfson, op. cit., I, 16). Wolfson supplies the documentation. 

14. This insight is well brought out in the familiar rabbinic tale about the 
"[Jewish] elders in Rome" who were asked: "If God has no pleasure in an 
idol, why does he not make an end of it?" To which they replied: "If 
men worshipped a thing of which the world had no need, he would make 
an end of it; but lo, they worship the sun and the moon and the stars 
and the planets: shall God destroy the world because of fools?" (M . Abo- 

15. Buber, Prophetic Faith (Macmillan, New York, 1949), p. 74. 

16. The "evil impulse" in man is often likened to a "foreign god within." 
Thus B. Shabbat 105b: " There shall not be in thee a foreign God 1 (Ps. 
81:10). What is the foreign god (idol) within the human being? The 
evil impulse." (See also J. Ned. 9:1, 41b.) Note the suggestion that the 
power of sin, though generated out of the self, confronts us as a power 
against the self. 

17. "The sin of Adam, we are told in the biblical myth, is not merely a 
sin but the original sin t the archetype from which all sin, the source of 
all human suffering springs . . . the attempt of man to play the part of a 
god, to set himself up as a deity, to usurp God's role as law-giver and to 
become a law unto himself. . . ." M. M. Kaplan, The Future of the 
American Jew (Macmillan: New York, 1948), p. 274. 

God and Man 105 

18. Solomon Schechter, Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (Macmillan: 
New York, 1909), p. 68. 

19. Schechter, op. at., p. 199; Buber, Prophetic Faith, pp. 102, 114. 

20. Schechter, Studies in Judaism (Jewish Publication Society: Philadel- 
phia, 1945), Second Series, p. 167; Max Kadushin, Organic Thinking: A 
Study in Rabbinic Thought (Jewish Theological Seminary: New York, 
1938), p. 305; Isadore Epstein, The Jewish Way of Life (Goldston: Lon- 
don, 1946), p. 22. 

21. B. Abodah Zarah 20b. 

22. HilkotDeot 2.3. 

23. Schechter, Studies, Second Series, p. 167, quoting Horodetsky. 

24. B. Erubm 13b. 

25. Kallah rabbati 3. 

26. Mekilta, Shirata chap iii. 

27. "The Torah commands one to love God (Deut. 6:5, 10:12, 11:1); 
only in that connection does it enjoin heartfelt love of the sojourner who 
is also one's 'neighbor' (Dcut. 10:19 because God loves the sojourner. If 
I love God, m the course of loving him, I come to love the one whom God 
loves too." Bubcr, "The Love of God and the Idea of Deity," Israel and 
the World,?. 61. 

28. "The love between a man and his neighbor flows from the love of 
God." Buber, Prophetic Faith, p. 161. 

29. Buber, "The Question of the Single One," Between Man and Man 
(Kegan Paul. London, 1947), p. 76. 

30. Juhen Benda, "The Attack on Western Morality," Commentary, Vol. 
IV (November, 1947), No. 5. Precisely the same concept of "moral 
races" is to be found, explicitly or by implication, in Greek ethical think- 
ing, including Stoicism, in Confucianism, and in modern humanism, to 
the degree that it has succeeded in emancipating itself from the Judo- 
Chnstian tradition. 

31. Judah Goldm, "Hillel the Elder," Journal of Religion, Vol. XXVI 
(October, 1946), No. 4. 

32. D Yoma 23a. 

33. Midrash Prov. 25:21 (ed. Buber, p. 98). 

34. L. Ginzberg, Students, Scholars and Saints (Jewish Publication So- 
ciety. Philadelphia, 1928), p. 192. 

35. M. Sanh. 4. 5. 

36. Buber interprets the injunction to love one's neighbor "as oneself" to 
mean loving one's neighbor "as one like myself," i.e., as a person. "The 
Question to the Single One," Between Man and Man, p. 51. 

37. Abot d. R.N. chap. 31. 

38. Sifra on Lev. 19.18. 

39. Abot d. R N., ed. Schechter. version B. chap. 32, p. 71. 

106 Judaism and Modern Man 

40. Af. Menahot 13. 11 

41. B.Yoma29a. 

"Do not think that he alone is an adulterer who by his sinful act has 
sinned; he is equally an adulterer who lusts with his eyes." Pesikta rab- 
bati 124b; cf. Midrash r. Lev., chap, xxiii, No. 12. "When a man has the 
intention to sin, it is as though he betrays God." Midrash r. Numb. 8.5. 



Jewish ethics is an ethic of law; but beyond that it is an ethic of 
love. The relation between law 1 and love is one of the most profound 
and perplexing paradoxes of the moral life. It confronts us with the 
task of finding our way amidst perils and pitfalls of opposed but equally 
dangerous character legalism, on the one hand, and antinomianism, 
on the other. 

Without law, social Kfe would be impossible; without justice, rela- 
tions among men would not reach the human level. Yet however 
advanced the law, however exalted the level of justice, it can never 
be anything more than relative relative to the wisdom and insight 
of men, as well as to the balance of social forces and interests. Even 
if the laws are received from God in divine revelation, no absolute 
position is achieved, for the laws have to be applied by men to chang- 
ing human conditions. Even the best system of justice is thus bound 
to contain an element of injustice simply because of the inescapable 
relativity of everything human. The injustice that is inherent in our 
best efforts at justice can only be overcome in a love that transcends 

Law and justice are the foundation of social existence, but the 
commandment of love demands that we go beyond them. Would we 
not fall under condemnation if God did not allow his love and mercy 
to prevail over his justice? 2 Are we not then required, in imitation 
of God, to go beyond the limits of the law in our dealings with our 

God and Man 107 

brothers? Indeed, this very concept lifenim mi-shurat ha-din, be- 
yond the line of the law is one of the most important operative ideas 
in Jewish ethics. "A Jew who acts lifenim mi-shurat ha-din" Epstein 
explains, "is a man who forgoes his rights which the 'letter' of justice 
accords him. ... [He is one] who submits to the rule of love [and] 
will therefore refuse to take advantage of the letter of justice." 3 Rab- 
binical literature is full of examples of such transcendence of law in 
love. Every man has the right to exact what is his under the law 
that is, to deal with his fellow-men in purely legal relations; but woe 
unto the generation composed of such men. Jerusalem fell, we are 
told, precisely because the men of the time insisted on their rights 
under the law. 4 The commandment of love is not only the source of 
all justice but is also the ultimate perspective from which the limita- 
tions of every standard of justice may be perceived. 

It is thus an error to identify law or justice with the highest princi- 
ple of Jewish ethics, for beyond them is love. A legalism that abso- 
lutizes law as ultimate must therefore be rejected. But so also must 
the antinomianism that rejects law as unnecessary in human life on 
the ground that relations among men should be "regulated" in the 
spontaneous freedom of love. If all men could achieve as a permanent 
condition the love that purges one of self-centeredness and sin, then 
indeed might such spontaneous harmony without law become the 
way of life of men in society. But the slightest acquaintance with men 
should be enough to teach us that such sanctification is not to be 
sought for in history and that it is the sheerest folly to base one'a 
ethical philosophy on the expectation that men will in fact behave 
as saints. No responsible thinker will venture to foresee human con- 
ditions within history in which faith will be so perfectly realized in 
love that law can be dispensed with and all action take rise in spon- 
taneous freedom. The transcendence of law in love is the divine im- 
perative that confronts every man in his relations with his fellow-men 
but it is an imperative that only the most sentimental utopianism can 
identify with the realities of social life at any stage of history. Law 
may not be the final word of the will of God, but so long as men 
remain sinful that is, so long as they remain human it is the will 
of God in a form that is indispensable and authoritative for the every- 
day conduct of life. 

108 Judaism and Modern Man 

The paradox whereby the commandment of love is recognized as 
governing all human conduct and yet as incapable of replacing law 
in the ongoing process of social life is a paradox that goes to the very 
heart of Jewish ethics and is the source of its depth and power. In 
its ultimate reach, Jewish ethics is an ethic of perfection: it calls upon 
men to be holy and perfect in imitation of God. On this level, it will 
accept no excuse or compromise. Love of fellow-man must be uni- 
versal and unconditional. Schechter tells us of a Jewish saint who 
"declined to be considered as one of the righteous of his generation, 
saying that he had no right to this distinction so long as he felt that 
he loved his children better than the rest of mankind." 5 We must ac- 
knowledge the utter validity of this absolutist affirmation and yet we 
cannot help recognizing that all life within history involves persistent 
violation of the divine imperative and the obligations derived there- 
from. We know, we cannot deny, that all men are brothers whom 
we should treat with the same benevolence as we do ourselves. Yet 
who of us can transact the business of a day without transgressing 
this law a thousand times? Every time we eat a full meal while 
others anywhere in the world go hungry we offend the law of our 
moral life. 6 

We are called to perfection in imitation of and fellowship with God. 
But our very finiteness stands in the way of our fulfilling the infinite 
obligation thus incurred. Our limited resources do not absolve us of 
the responsibility. "Just as no man can claim that his poverty frees 
him from the duty to repay a loan," Paul Weiss tellingly points out, 
"so no man can claim to be without guilt because unable to fulfill 
[his] infinite obligation." 7 Nor is it merely that we fall short of our 
duty. Much more portentous is the fact that the moment we begin 
to translate intention into deed we become involved in all the rela- 
tivities of expediency and all the ambiguities of actual life. Evil means, 
we know, cannot achieve good ends. Such means necessarily tend to 
vitiate the ends they are instituted to serve. In the first place, they, in 
a very real sense, enter into the composition of the ends they bring 
into being and thus impart to them something of their own moral 
quality. In the second place, perhaps even more importantly, their 
employment tends to corrupt the human agents resorting to them and 
therefore to corrupt the end itself, which is, after all, made up of the 

God and Man 109 

actions of these very men. So far, therefore, from a good end sancti- 
fying evil means, evil means actually operate to destroy the good end. 

But is action in this world possible without using means that are 
at best equivocal? "He who acts is always to some degree unjust," 
Goethe somewhere says; "only the spectator can preserve his con- 
science." There is no level of life that is free from this tragic dilemma. 
The Midrash portrays Abraham as expostulating with God: "If you 
want a world, you will not have justice; if it is justice you want, there 
will be no world. You are taking hold of the rope by both ends 
you desire both a world and justice but if you don't concede a little, 
the world cannot stand." 8 Activity of men in history, even in pursuit 
of the best ends, carries with it not only the promotion but also the 
violation of the highest imperatives of the moral life. 

But we have still not gotten to the bottom of our moral predicament. 
Not only do we always fall short of our obligations: not only do we 
always tend to imperil the ends we pursue by the means we employ; 
but we are always under the temptation of perverting even the partial 
good we do manage to achieve by making it the vehicle of our pride 
and self-glorification. There is no ideal, however pure, that is not 
compounded to some degree with the self-interest of those who pro- 
mote it. The great statesman devotes his life to the welfare of his 
people, but is he not also serving his self-esteem and love of power? 
The selfless revolutionary dedicates himself to the struggle for social 
justice, but is he not also finding an outlet for his obscure hates and 
resentments? The philanthropist showers benefits on his less fortunate 
brothers, but is not his generosity a display of superiority as well as 
an expression of pity? Even the saint in his humility, does he not 
exalt himself in the pride of his humility? When even these best of 
men are judged in the scale of the divine imperative perfect and 
undivided love of God is not the verdict bound to be condemnation? 
Does this sound severe, unreasonable, impossible? That is just what 
Jewish ethics is. "As for him who does not fulfill the Torah for its 
own sake," we are warned, "it were better had he never been cre- 
ated." 9 

In its most practical aspect, the dilemma of the moral life we are 
trying to understand reveals itself in the fact that in the actual course 

110 Judaism and Modern Man 

of social existence, the choice we are confronted with is not between 
a line of conduct that is absolutely good and another that is absolutely 
evil, but between courses of action all of which are ambiguous, equivo- 
cal and to some degree infected with evil. That this is a fact no one, 
I think, with any experience of life will care to deny. The practical 
problem of the moral life is, therefore, how to make a choice among 
evils without losing for a moment the living awareness that they are 
evils from among which we are compelled to choose. It is the problem 
of relating the absolute to the relative, of making the ideal imperative 
relevant to the conditions of actual life. Cynicism denies that ideal 
imperatives, since they are impossible of actual enactment in life, can 
have any meaning or relevance to human existence; it thus falls into 
utter moral unscrupulousness. Perfectionist utopianism, on the other 
hand, insists that the absolute ideal, because it is relevant and binding, 
must somehow be capable of complete realization in history; it es- 
capes cynicism only to fall into a delusive self -righteousness. A real- 
istic ethic must avoid both pitfalls. It must know how to relate the 
ideal to reality without deceiving itself as to the actual distance be- 
tween them. It must know how to choose from among evils without 
obliterating the distinction between good and evil. 

The absolute imperatives calling to perfection acquire their potency 
precisely through the fact that they transcend every actuality of ex- 
istence. They are regulative, not constitutive, principles of the moral 
life; they cannot themselves be directly embodied in action but they 
operate as a dynamic power within it. They serve, first, as principles 
of criticism of existing conditions. They serve, next, as principles of 
guidance in the struggle for better conditions. And they serve, finally, 
as principles of discrimination and action in the choice among relevant 
possibilities under any conditions. These three functions are most 
intimately related. Serious criticism of existing conditions is possible 
only in terms of a standard that transcends these conditions, and since 
there are no conditions of life that can claim exemption from criticism, 
this standard must be such as to transcend all possible conditions. 
Precisely the same is true when we consider the ideal in relation to 
action. It is the absolute ideal beyond any existing reality which alone 
is capable of moving men to defy the limitations of the actual and 
to overcome them. Moral action which lacks some reference to an 

God and Man 111 

absolute standard inevitably falls short of satisfying even the limited 
necessities of life; its ends are always too immediate and its perspec- 
tives too narrow. It is bereft of vision and drained of dynamic power. 

In no connection is the "impossible" ideal more pertinent, indeed 
indispensable, than in relation to the decisions that constitute the on- 
going process of our moral life. When we are confronted with a 
number of alternative courses of action, none of which is simply right 
or wrong and that is the permanent predicament of human life 
how shall we make our choice? Clearly no choice is possible unless 
we are able to measure the alternative courses against some standard 
that transcends them. Once we have such a criterion, it becomes 
possible to say after a responsible estimate of consequences that 
one course constitutes a lesser evil than another, but without a cri- 
terion no judgment at all is possible. Decision, choice, is always in 
terms of an ideal standard: that is what the cynics cannot under- 
stand. But this standard, though practically operative, remains trans- 
cendent and ideal; it can never be simply identified with any course 
of action possible under the circumstances: this the perfectionist 
Utopian refuses to see. Jewish ethics grasps both sides of the complex 
reality and is thus able to make moral ideals relevant to actual life 
without falling into sentimentality and illusion. It is able to make 
pragmatic and utilitarian judgments without taking either pragmatism 
or utilitarianism as final. It is able to employ all the resources of sci- 
ence for co-ordinating and implementing ends without falling victim 
to the delusion that empirical science can set the ends of human life. 

Amidst the intractable realities of existence, our choice is thus only 
too often a choice between different degrees of evil. The real moral 
peril consists not so much in choosing what in our best judgment 
seems to be the lesser evil; such choice is entailed by the very process 
of living. The real moral peril consists in trying to make a virtue out 
of necessity, in converting the lesser evil we choose, merely because 
we choose it, into a positive good. The course we fix upon may, in 
our considered opinion, fall less short of the moral law than any 
alternative possible under the circumstances, and we therefore choose 
it. But it still falls short of the moral law; it still represents to some 
degree and in some way a violation of the ideal imperative we recog- 
nize as the law of our moral life. With a heavy heart, we may decide 

112 Judaism and Modern Man 

that going to war is the only course open to us in the world of today, 
but killing does not thereby become right and good. What is essential 
to moral sanity in any situation is that we never refuse to call the 
policy or course of action we decide upon by its right name in the light 
of our absolute standard, that we never try to deceive ourselves as to 
the real moral quality of what we do. For once we permit such self- 
deception, once we yield to the easy temptation of proclaiming the 
lesser evil, because it is lesser, to be right and good, we have taken 
the first fatal step toward wiping out all distinction between good and 
evil. Any course of action, no matter how repugnant to the moral 
law, may then be embraced without scruple of conscience and passed 
off as unqualifiedly good. It is the end of all ethical discrimination, 
of all significant moral life. "It is true," Buber writes, summarizing 
the biblical outlook, "that we are not able to live in perfect justice, 
and in order to preserve the community of men, we are often com- 
pelled to accept wrongs in decisions concerning the community. But 
what matters is that in every hour of decision we are aware of our 
responsibility and summon our conscience to weigh exactly how much 
is necessary to preserve the community, and accept just so much and 
no more." 10 This is possible only if we acknowledge the moral law 
even when we are compelled to violate it. 

However involved we may become in the relativities of life, we 
can never deny our responsibility to the Absolute. Incapable of 
achievement amidst the intractable forces of life and history though 
they may be, the ideal imperatives of the Jewish ethic are directly 
pertinent to all action. They constitute transcendent principles of 
aspiration, criticism and judgment. They point to goals of moral 
striving and generate the dynamic of moral effort. They provide a 
touchstone by which we may discriminate the better from the worse, 
while recognizing the imperfection of all our alternatives. Above all, 
they stand over us as an eternal judgment reminding us that the best 
we can do is none too good and warning us against converting the in- 
escapable necessities of practical life into standards of right and good. 
Allegiance to the absolute imperatives of the moral law is the ethical 
aspect of the worship of a holy God. It saves us from taking final 
satisfaction in anything we do in a situation where everything we can 
do is qualified by the relativities of time and circumstance. It inculcates 

God and Man 113 

a wholesome spirit of humility which gives the soul no peace in any 
achievement while a still higher level is possible. 

Because it views the moral life in this way, the Jewish ethic is an 
ethic of decision. The call to decision comes to us in the midst of 
life, in the existential context of life. It is always concrete and always 
different, always in terms of some particular situation or problem. 
That is why we are so prone to think of it in impersonal terms. "The 
situation demands," we say; "conditions require . . ." But situations 
cannot demand, nor can conditions require. It is God who calls us 
through the particular situation and who sets us a task within the 
particular conditions. To that call we must respond in action. No 
system of fixed absolutes, no authoritative code, not even mystic il- 
lumination, can absolve us from the appalling duty of making respon- 
sible choice among relevant possibilities. Light and guidance we may 
receive from these and other sources, but the ultimate decision is 
always ours to make. We cannot escape this responsibility, and in the 
responsibility of decision we come face to face with God. 

The Jewish ethic is at bottom an ethic of vital tension, of tension 
between the absolute good we ought to do and the relative possibilities 
open to us in any actual situation. It is this tension that generates the 
dynamic of moral action, which is, in the last analysis, the pull of the 
ideal that always transcends reality and yet is always relevant to it. 
But the significance of this tension is more than ethical; indeed, on 
the moral plane alone, the dilemma out of which this tension grows 
can never be resolved. The resolution of the heart-rending, existence- 
shattering conflict between that which we know we ought to do and 
that which in fact we do do is possible only on the religious level, on 
the level of repentance, grace and forgiveness. At this point, ethics 
transcends itself and returns to its religious source and origin. 

Having done our best amidst the harsh realities of existence, we 
realize that the very best we do always falls short of, if indeed it does 
not pervert, the absolute standard which we recognize as the law of 
our life. Looking within ourselves, we can no longer deny that if 
divine justice Were meted out, we would all stand condemned and 
there would indeed be "no world," as the midrash above quoted points 
out. We owe our very existence to divine grace, to God's merciful 
decision to "concede a little." Jewish religion understands this with 

114 Judaism and Modern Man 

every fiber of its being. Every morning the observant Jew repeats 
the prayer that, if existentially appropriated, must indeed shatter all 
human pretensions and leave man in humble dependence upon the 
grace of God: 

Sovereign of all the worlds! Not because of our righteous acts 
do we lay our supplications before thee but because of thine 
abundant mercies. What are we? What is our life? What is our 
piety? What is our righteousness? 


1. As used in this context, "law" means neither the so-called "ritual law," 
which will be discussed below, nor the legislative enactments of the state; 
the term refers to what is usually known as the moral law. 

2. B. Berakot 7a. 

3. Isadore Epstein, The Jewish Way of Life (Goldston: London, 1946), 
pp. 30, 93. 

4. B. Baba Metzia 30b: "R. Johanan said: Jerusalem was destroyed for 
nothing but that . . . they were wont to establish justice in accordance 
with the strict law of the Torah and did not operate lifenim mi-shurat ha- 

5. Solomon Schechter, Studies in Judaism (Jewish Publication Society: 
Philadelphia, 1945), Second Series, p. 169. 

6. "According to Israel's law," Schechter says, "no man has a right to 
more than bread and water and wood as long as the poor are not pro- 
vided with the necessaries of life." American Hebrew, January, 1916; 
quoted in N. Bentwich, Solomon Schechter (Jewish Publication Society: 
Philadelphia, 1938), p. 229. 

7. Paul Weiss, "God, Job and Evil," Commentary, Vol. VI (August, 
1948), No. 2. 

8. Midrash r. Gen. chap. XLIX, No. 20. 

9. B. Berakot 17a. 

10. Martin Buber, "Hebrew Humanism," Israel and the World (Schocken: 
New York, 1948), p. 246. 


"Consciousness of sin and assurance of grace are the two great 
motive powers in the working of religion." 1 Why is it that these words 
of Solomon Schechter seem to have so little meaning to the modern- 
minded man of our time? Is it because we have finally abolished sin 
and no longer need salvation? Hardly so; we of today are more 
anxiously concerned with "saving" ourselves than men have been for 
centuries. Salvation cults multiply. Every bizarre quackery finds its 
horde of devotees; every panecea that promises deliverance in up-to 
date terms is hailed with eager hope by thousands of lost souls. Our 
generation is literally obsessed with the search for salvation, and yet 
we seem utterly incapable of understanding what it is we are search- 
ing for or of turning in the only direction in which it is to be found. 

The decades of secularism have left their mark. They have blunted 
our spiritual sensitivity and obscured our vision of the basic facts of 
human life. We are in a position where we have to begin painfully 
to regain the capacity to see things as they really are. This is not 
easy, for the things we are bound to see once we open our eyes are 
not things we want to see. They are not things calculated to flatter 
our self-esteem or grant us "peace of mind" on easy terms. Yet there 
is no other way. No short cuts will do. We must try to get to the 
bottom of the human situation as it presents itself to us in our own 
existence and see if we can pick up the thread by which men of past 
generations found their way out of the maze of confusion and frustra- 
tion that is human life. We cannot relive their lives nor can we simply 
take over their answers verbatim. But man's existential condition 
and essential needs remain ever the same, and perhaps the experience 
of former ages embodied in our religious tradition may provide the 
clue for which we are seeking. Rerhaps the resources of Scripture 
and rabbinic thought may possess the power and relevance that the 
up-to-the-minute "scientific" gospels of our day so obviously lack. 

What shall we do to be saved? What is it that we want to be saved 
from? On this there is but one thought. The salvation we crave is 


118 Judaism and Modern Man 

Because the plight of our human existence is thus rooted in a 
denial of the essential law of our being, we experience this plight not 
merely as fate but as guilt. The dereliction that overwhelms us is at 
once the despair of being abandoned in the universe and the agonizing 
consciousness that we are ultimately responsible for our own con- 
dition. The meaninglessness and vacuity in which life is involved con- 
front us not merely as an external danger but as inner culpability. 
This sense of guilt is the mark of our human condition. It is the in- 
ward manifestation of the utter emptiness, the hopelessly fragmentary 
character, of existence without God, and it reflects our unwilling, per- 
haps even unconscious, confession that this isolation is not our 
original condition but somehow the result of our own doing. And 
indeed it is of our own doing. It is the consequence of our defying 
the essential law of our being. It is the consequence of sin. 

Sin is one of the great facts of human life. It lies at the root of 
man's existential plight. In the last analysis, it is sin and the fruits of 
sin from which we require to be saved. 

We have seen in earlier chapters that sin is not simply the violation 
of some particular moral or ritual injunction. It is that and much 
more. At bottom, sin is man's anxious effort to escape the ambiguities 
and responsibilities of his creaturely condition, either by trying to 
sink below the human level, as in sensuality, or by striving to rise 
above it, in pride and self -exaltation. Put in a different and perhaps 
more fundamental way, sin is a frantic attempt at self-absolutization, 
whether it is the absolutization of our organic powers, such as sex, 
or of our spiritual potencies, such as intelligence, knowledge and the 
force of will. The structures thus built up possess the entire person- 
ality and extend to every aspect of social life; they manifest them- 
selves on every level of human behavior, unconscious as well as con- 

Sin is plainly born of anxiety and therefore ultimately out of lack 
of faith. Were we possessed of true and steadfast faith in the divine 
source of our being, each of us would live out his life in confident 
fellowship with God and his fellow-men. Our paradoxical status in 
the scheme of things our "finite infinity" would then be a source 
of self-realization and creativity. This is the picture of life in Paradise, 

God and Man 119 

where, according to the Scriptural account, the untroubled harmony 
between the man and the woman, and between both and God, ex- 
tended throughout all nature, which was at one with itself. But it is 
also the picture of the life that is possible for man at any time if only 
by the power of his faith and love he were really to transfer the center 
of his existence from within himself to the Living God. 

Born of anxiety, sin but deepens and spreads the anxiety that makes 
for the forlornness of life. In our anxiety that is, in our distrust of 
God we strive frantically to build up systems of defense, psycho- 
logical and social, in which to ground our security without dependence 
on the divine. All the powers of mind and all the resources of per- 
sonality we mobilize to establish the self in its self-sufficiency. It is 
a vain and delusive enterprise. Every attempt to achieve security on 
such a basis but deepens our insecurity and drives us into an ever- 
greater isolation without and contradiction within. These structures, 
which the soul alienated from God is impelled to build up to sustain 
itself, may give it temporary and illusory protection against the pres- 
sures of reality, but only at the expense of distorting it in ways that 
the psychoanalyst and the student of social pathology know so well. 3 
The hard, defiant self-absorption, the mad straining for prestige and 
power, the feverish competition in conspicuous display, the restless 
hankering after novelty and distraction, the callousness, brutality and 
aggressions that characterize so much of life, what are they but ways 
in which the self tries desperately to ward off the threat of meaning- 
lessness and insecurity with which it is beset? So also, for that matter, 
are the sentimentalities, the renunciations and repressions, of which 
the "good people" of the world, the virtuous, the puritanical and the 
self-righteous, are so proud. They are all structures by which the 
self strives to become sufficient unto itself, to overcome its misery 
through its own resources. And because man is social, these person- 
ality structures necessarily find their appropriate social expressions 
in the practices and institutions of society. The very texture of ex- 
istence thus becomes permeated with the consequences of sinful ego- 

But the devices of man's heart, the protective and compensatory 
devices of sinful self-sufficiency, are bound to prove futile. Sooner 
or later, somehow, at some point, the divine claim breaks through. 

118 Judaism and Modern Man 

Because the plight of our human existence is thus rooted in a 
denial of the essential law of our being, we experience this plight not 
merely as fate but as guilt. The dereliction that overwhelms us is at 
once die despair of being abandoned in the universe and the agonizing 
consciousness that we are ultimately responsible for our own con- 
dition. The meaninglessness and vacuity in which life is involved con- 
front us not merely as an external danger but as inner culpability. 
This sense of guilt is the mark of our human condition. It is the in- 
ward manifestation of the utter emptiness, the hopelessly fragmentary 
character, of existence without God, and it reflects our unwilling, per- 
haps even unconscious, confession that this isolation is not our 
original condition but somehow the result of our own doing. And 
indeed it is of our own doing. It is the consequence of our defying 
the essential law of our being. It is the consequence of sin. 

Sin is one of the great facts of human life. It lies at the root of 
man's existential plight. In the last analysis, it is sin and the fruits of 
sin from which we require to be saved. 

We have seen in earlier chapters that sin is not simply the violation 
of some particular moral or ritual injunction. It is that and much 
more. At bottom, sin is man's anxious effort to escape the ambiguities 
and responsibilities of his creaturely condition, either by trying to 
sink below the human level, as in sensuality, or by striving to rise 
above it, in pride and self-exaltation. Put in a different and perhaps 
more fundamental way, sin is a frantic attempt at self-absolutization, 
whether it is the absolutization of our organic powers, such as sex, 
or of our spiritual potencies, such as intelligence, knowledge and the 
force of will. The structures thus built up possess the entire person- 
ality and extend to every aspect of social life; they manifest them- 
selves on every level of human behavior, unconscious as well as con- 

Sin is plainly born of anxiety and therefore ultimately out of lack 
of faith. Were we possessed of true and steadfast faith in the divine 
source of our being, each of us would live out his life in confident 
fellowship with God and his fellow-men. Our paradoxical status in 
the scheme of things our "finite infinity" would then be a source 
of self-realization and creativity. This is the picture of life in Paradise, 

God and Man 119 

where, according to the Scriptural account, the untroubled harmony 
between the man and the woman, and between both and God, ex- 
tended throughout all nature, which was at one with itself. But it is 
also the picture of the life that is possible for man at any time if only 
by the power of his faith and love he were really to transfer the center 
of his existence from within himself to the Living God. 

Born of anxiety, sin but deepens and spreads the anxiety that makes 
for the forlornness of life. In our anxiety that is, in our distrust of 
God we strive frantically to build up systems of defense, psycho- 
logical and social, in which to ground our security without dependence 
on the divine. All the powers of mind and all the resources of per- 
sonality we mobilize to establish the self in its self-sufficiency. It is 
a vain and delusive enterprise. Every attempt to achieve security on 
such a basis but deepens our insecurity and drives us into an ever- 
greater isolation without and contradiction within. These structures, 
which the soul alienated from God is impelled to build up to sustain 
itself, may give it temporary and illusory protection against the pres- 
sures of reality, but only at the expense of distorting it in ways that 
the psychoanalyst and the student of social pathology know so well. 3 
The hard, defiant self-absorption, the mad straining for prestige and 
power, the feverish competition in conspicuous display, the restless 
hankering after novelty and distraction, the callousness, brutality and 
aggressions that characterize so much of life, what are they but ways 
in which the self tries desperately to ward off the threat of meaning- 
lessness and insecurity with which it is beset? So also, for that matter, 
are the sentimentalities, the renunciations and repressions, of which 
the "good people" of the world, the virtuous, the puritanical and the 
self-righteous, are so proud. They are all structures by which the 
self strives to become sufficient unto itself, to overcome its misery 
through its own resources. And because man is social, these person- 
ality structures necessarily find their appropriate social expressions 
in the practices and institutions of society. The very texture of ex- 
istence thus becomes permeated with the consequences of sinful ego- 

But the devices of man's heart, the protective and compensatory 
devices of sinful self-sufficiency, are bound to prove futile. Sooner 
or later, somehow, at some point, the divine claim breaks through. 

120 Judaism and Modern Man 

Most immediately, we become aware of it in the forlornness and self- 
condemnation of guilt. Suddenly we find ourselves standing in hope- 
less contradiction to the divine imperative, which is also the law of 
our own life. The divine imperative is internalized and confronts us 
as a power from within. It is here that the profound insights of psy- 
choanalysis become particularly relevant to a realistic theology. 4 

The experience of standing in guilt under judgment, to which psy- 
choanalysis points without being able to exhaust its significance, is 
in its ultimate bearing the unconscious acknowledgment of the vision 
of a holy God before whom all our pretensions to self-sufficiency and 
righteousness crumble into dust. Isaiah's anguished cry "Woe unto 
me, I am lost; I am a man of unclean lips . . . and mine eyes have 
seen the King, the Lord of Hosts" (Isa. 6:5) is the cry that breaks 
out from the hidden depths of every one of us whenever the force of 
existence smashes through the hard crust of egocentric self-deception. 
At such moments, which none of us can escape, we stand confronted 
with the blinding, shattering power of the divine holiness. We may 
not know the vision we see. We may receive it in some fragmented 
and unrecognizable form. We may call it conscience or superego or 
perhaps even the command of society. We may think of it as the 
claim of reason or truth or social responsibility. But however we ex- 
plain or explain it away, we feel its power. We stand lost in confusion 
and guilt, for the instant, at least, bereft of all our carefully constructed 
defenses against the Absolute. We stand broken in spirit, utterly de- 
valuated, thirsting for a security beyond our own devising, reaching 
out for a salvation that will restore life and hope. 

The salvation that alone seems capable of freeing us from the 
dreadful frustration of self-isolated existence is a salvation that 
promises to relate the self in faith to some larger whole beyond the 
self, to some superpersonal reality. It is precisely here that the last 
and perhaps the gravest peril lies. How easy it is, even when we are 
thus at the last extremity, to deceive ourselves and place our ultimate 
trust in what must, in the end, prove itself to be no more than the 
self projected and disguised. How easy it is to turn for salvation to 
the latest panacea, to the most advanced social movement, to the 
most fashionable philosophy, to the most recent "system of values," 
or even to the most "modern" religion. How easy it is to think that 

God and Man 121 

we have "tuned in on the Infinite" when we have found what we 
take to be the divine in ourselves, in our unconscious, in Beauty or 
Art, in Nature or Humanity. How easy but how disastrous. For it 
is not by such devices that we can be saved. Neither the cult of tech- 
nology nor that of psychoanalysis, neither the worship of race and 
instinct nor that of science and reason, neither nationalism nor col- 
lectivism, neither the exaltation of democracy as a "common faith" 
nor the retreat into self-sufficient mysticism can really break through 
the isolation and fragmentariness of our sinful existence. On the con- 
trary, in the last reckoning, they but feed our egocentricity and fortify 
the structures that the sinful self erects to shield itself against the 
divine claim. To turn to them for salvation is, in the long run, but 
to deepen the wretchedness from which we want to be saved. 

It is true, salvation does indeed mean self-completion through 
relating oneself in faith to some greater reality beyond the self. But 
nothing short of the Living God will do. "Thou hast made us for thee 
and our heart is uneasy until it rest in thee." 15 Until we are ready to 
make a clean breast of it and abandon all our evasions and devices, 
salvation is not for us. Only when all our pretensions to self-sufficiency 
have been shattered, only when we have given up all our schemes of 
achieving security in some larger whole which is but the self writ 
large, only when we have finally realized that we cannot save our- 
selves even through our noblest aspirations and most exalted ideals, 
only when we come forward with empty hands but contrite heart and 
humble spirit, only then is there hope. Only the contrite self, sick of 
its pretensions, can find salvation. 

The Hebraic concept of teshubah, so central to Jewish religion, 
expresses in consummate form the profound paradox involved in this 
return to God. Teshubah "turning" is the fusion of repentance 
and grace; it points at one and the same time to man's action in 
abandoning his delusive self-sufficiency so as to turn to God and to 
God's action in giving man the power to break the vicious circle of 
sin and turn to the divine source of his being. "Turn me, O Lord, 
that I may turn," pleads the author of Lamentations (Lam. 5:21) 
and this plea is the heart-rending prayer of sinful man at the end of 
his rope. It is a prayer that brings its sure fulfilment. "The Lord 

122 Judaism and Modern Man 

is nigh unto those of a broken heart and he delivers them that an 
crushed in spirit" (Ps. 34 : 1 8 ) . "If you turn, I will restore you and you 
shall stand in my presence, says the Lord" (Jer. 15:19). 

Only those of a broken heart can find God. For the broken heart 
repentance, complete self-emptying before God is the breaking of 
the stubborn isolation and self-sufficiency that is the root source of 
our troubles. It releases the stopped-up fountains of faith. 

Because it is the delusion of self-sufficiency that must be overcome 
before the healing work of God becomes available to us, we obviously 
cannot hope to achieve our salvation through our own works, how- 
ever meritorious. To an earthly king, we are told a man comes full 
and returns empty; but to God he must come empty that is, empty 
of pretensions and justifications and claims and he will return full, 
full of grace and forgiveness. 6 It is not denied that man is called to 
obedience to God in works, or that his works in fulfilment of the 
divine law enter into God's judgment upon him. But it must be 
denied that any man can presume to count on his works to win him 
his salvation: good works are the fruit and evidence of a saving faith, 
but salvation is ultimately by faith and by grace received in faith. 

A moment's reflection will show why this must be so. Pretensions 
to self-sufficiency are of the very essence of sin. Who of us, looking 
into his own heart, would care to assert that his works are enough 
to justify him in the sight of a holy God? If the world were ruled by 
the attribute of justice alone authoritative rabbinic tradition tells 
us that is, if each of us received his deserts according to his works, 
no one would escape destruction. 7 Therefore did God couple the 
attribute of mercy to that of justice. 8 If we are to be saved at all, if 
we are to be restored to fellowship with God, it must be through his 
mercy. It must be because we abandon all pretense to self-sufficiency, 
all claims and pretensions, and throw ourselves upon his grace. "Our 
Father, our King," so runs the daily Tahanun in the morning prayer, 
"be gracious unto us and answer us, for we have no works . . . Save 
us according to thy grace." All men need grace. Abraham needed 
it; it was for his sake, we are told, that grace came plenteously into 
the world. 9 And if Abraham the friend of God, how much more we? 
From the pit of sin we can be saved only by God's grace: it is grace 
which gives us strength to see the right and to persevere in doing it; 

God and Man 123 

above all, it is grace which gives us the power to break through the 
vicious circle of egocentricity and return to the divine center of our 

Salvation is of repentance and faith, for faith is at bottom right 
relation to God and that is salvation. This is our side, the human 
side, of teshubah. "We are not the less serious about grace because 
we are serious about the human power of deciding:" 10 But while 
initiative is required of us, it is plainly not sufficient, and Jewish tra- 
dition is emphatic about telling us so. "The Pharisaic position," Israel 
Abrahams notes, "tried to hold the balance between man's duty to 
strive to earn pardon and his inability to attain it without God's 
gracious gift of it." 11 Indeed, like the decision of failh of which it 
is but the reenactment at every crisis of life, the turning to God in true 
repentance is already in a way a manifestation of divine grace. In the 
final analysis, despite the initiative and activity required of him, man 
cannot save himself; the assurances to the contrary of the self -redemp- 
tive cults, whether secularist, legalist or mystic, are dangerously de- 
lusive. It is God who saves. To the truly repentant, to the broken of 
heart who have disarmed themselves before God, the divine spirit 
goes out to meet and to purge. "Then came one of the seraphim unto 
me," Isaiah continues after his shattering confession of unworthiness 
and guilt. "Then came one of the seraphim unto me, with a red-hot 
coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar, and he touched 
my mouth with it and said: Lo, this has touched your lips and your 
sin is taken away, your sin is forgiven." (Isa. 6:6). With the purging 
of guilt, the crushing load of fear 12 and anxiety is lifted from the heart. 
At last the peace for which we have been yearning comes to us, the 
"peace that passeth understanding": at last we have found our place 
in the supernatural order for which we are meant. "The religious," 
says the philosopher, F. J. E. Woodbridge, strangely recalling the 
words of the rabbinic scholar, Solomon Schechter, "are those who 
have a sense of the need and possibility of salvation. Only the saved 
can be genuinely happy and at peace. And what are they saved from? 
. . . Their sins. And what are their sins? . . . There is one sin which 
is unforgivable: the refusal of allegiance to the supernatural. One may 
be converted from that sin and then there is salvation." 13 

Repentence in the sense of teshubah opens up the heart to a new 

124 Judaism and Modern Man 

influx of strength and power. It is an activity of the entire personality 
and therefore affects the entire personality. It is the beginning of a 
new life. Out of the return to God in true contrition and humility of 
spirit, the new self is born. 

This "new life" in God is the true life of man. It is, as Kierkegaard 
says, the life of the self that "wills to be itself" and that therefore 
"grounds its existence transparently on the Power which posited it." 14 
Existence now becomes secure and meaningful. The fearful isolation 
of the self -centered life is broken and despair is dissolved in faith. Fel- 
lowship with God opens the way for fellowship with man in true per- 
sonal communion. Life becomes whole again and what was vacuous 
and empty is now full of significance. The salvation that brings de- 
liverance from the power of sin brings also the possibility of dis- 
solving the distorted personality structures in which sin finds its em- 
bodiment and expression. 

Salvation thus brings self-realization, but it is the self-realization 
that comes of self -giving. Anxious concern for the self and its fate 
leads, as we have seen, inevitably to self-isolation, frustration and 
defeat. It is by turning away from itself to God that the self may be 
saved: "Is it thy wish to live? Do not live; so that thou mayest live." 15 
Life more abundant is the fruit of faith and love and repentance, not 
of any self-obsessed strategy of self-salvation. 

Scripture and rabbinic literature never tire of assuring sinful man 
of the unfailing availability of redemption through repentance and of 
the transforming power of divine grace. Isaiah 57: 19, read as: "Peace, 
peace, to the far and the near: to all who draw near to me I draw 
near and heal them," is used by a midrashic commentator to attribute 
to God the moving words: "My hands are stretched out toward the 
penitent; I reject no creature who gives me his heart in repentance." 10 
No life is so derelict, so sin-hardened, so lost in self, that it is beyond 
redemption: "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white 
as snow" (Isa.l:18). 

That teshubah turning to God in contrition and humility of spirit 
creates a "new heart" within us and transforms us into a new self, 
Jewish tradition consistently teaches through prophet and rabbi. "I 

God and Man 125 

will give you a new heart and place within you a new spirit; I will re- 
move the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of 
flesh; I will put my spirit within you" (Ezek. 36:26) : these words of 
God spoken to Ezekiel are taken to refer not only to corporate Israel 
but to the personal existence of every man who sins and repents. "God 
creates them [repentant sinners], as it were, into new creatures." 17 
"Atonement," Montefiore summarizes the rabbinic teaching, "becomes 
the destruction of sin and sinfulness, the creation of a new being, a sort 
of being who is born again, the breaking of the barrier between sinful 
man and his Maker." 18 It is for this reason that he who repents is re- 
garded as if he had never sinned and is even exalted above the con- 
ventionally righteous man. 19 It is for this reason that we are so often 
admonished never to remind the sinner who has "returned" of his 
former condition, 20 not only so as not to offend or embarrass him but 
also and perhaps more importantly because such reminders reveal our 
own lack of faith in the redemptive miracle of divine grace. The 
sinner who "returns" is a new man, and as such he enters into new 
relations of fellowship with God and fellow-man. 

The "new self" that emerges once we achieve deliverance from self- 
enclosed egocentricity brings a new power for life and introduces a 
subtle transformation into every aspect of the personality. Our human 
purposes, broken in the experience of guilt and repentance, are re- 
directed. The self is opened to other selves in genuine community. 
The entire scale of values by which we live undergoes a radical change; 
new motives arise and what was once so prone to frustrate and dis- 
tract now loses its power over us. Organized about its true center, 
life regains its freedom and wholeness. The victory has been won. 

But if the victory has been won, it is, let us remember, a victory 
that is never final. Salvation, like faith, out of which it is born, can 
never become a secure possession of ours. For at bottom, salvation 
is reconciliation with God at-one-ment; and such reconciliation is 
predicated upon utter renunciation of the pretensions of the self to 
autonomy. Yet so long as we live out our lives in this world, the 
drive of self-absolutization will remain within us and the temptation 
to find security in our own achievements, personal, social and spiritual, 
will dog our every step. The battle of faith and repentance is thus one 

126 Judaism and Modern Man 

that is never at an end but must be constantly refought lest the fruit 
be lost. It is the perennial struggle of life, and in this struggle, too, the 
resources of divine grace are available to all who "turn." 

The same power that brings salvation to man by healing the wound 
of his "inner" existence brings him salvation also by giving validity 
and significance to his "outer" activities and enterprises. Indeed, the 
distinction between the two breaks down if carried beyond a certain 
point. The saving grace of God is one, though it operates along two 
dimensions: the vertical dimension of personal existence and the hori- 
zontal dimension of social life. Along the latter, salvation, collective 
and corporate, is embedded in the movement of history, yet is never 
entirely fulfilled within it. 

In the religious life of Israel, the hope of corporate and collective 
salvation along the horizontal dimension of history emerged first and 
has continued to be the central emphasis of Jewish tradition. Indi- 
vidual salvation is comprehended within the grand sweep of the Mes- 
sianic expectation and the promise of the "world-to-come." In the 
end, the two are one. 

We of today no longer harbor the illusion so universal a few decades 
ago that history is the great redeeming power. We see what the pro- 
phets of Israel saw and proclaimed, that it is history itself which re- 
quires redemption. Just as individual life comprehended in its own 
terms and organized about itself as center can yield nothing but frus- 
tration, anxiety and despair, so the collective life of mankind in his- 
tory, taken in its own terms, is nothing but a record of chaos and con- 
fusion, a "tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying noth- 
ing." In the one case as in the other, fulfilment, completion, signifi- 
cance, can come only from the creative Power that is recognized as 
the transcendent sources of being and value. The grace of God which 
gives worth and meaning to personal existence endows history and all 
its enterprises with the promise of fulfilment. "Moral and social action 
is the road toward . . . salvation, [but] it is not true that man is his 
own savior: God alone can accomplish salvation through his grace." 21 
These words of Albert Salomon, the distinguished sociologist, apply 
with the same force to history as to individual life. 

In the salvation that moves along the vertical dimension of personal 

God and Man 127 

existence, life is healed and restored in value by being related in faith 
to the Living God. In the social salvation that moves along the hori- 
zontal dimension of history, we are given the assurance that, despite 
all the failures and frustrations of empirical events, the cause of free- 
dom and justice will ultimately triumph, for with the eyes of faith we 
discern that cause to be the cause of God. By being related to a ful- 
filment beyond, though revelant to itself in the Messianic vision of 
the Kingdom of God, human history is redeemed from the evil and 
irrationality that infect it and is endowed with meaning in the larger 
context of the divine purpose. On this we shall have more to say in a 
later chapter. 

Salvation individual and social, vertical or horizontal is oriented 
to eternity. But eternity, in the Hebraic view, is not escape from, but 
fulfilment of time. It is both "now" and "hereafter." It is now be- 
cause, in fellowship with God, all the vicissitudes of time are overcome 
and transcended. Over the man bound to God in faith, and insofar 
as he is bound to God in faith, time has lost its mastery. He remains 
in the world to work within it, for this world of life and history is, to 
the Jew, the only field of service to God. But in the new God-centered 
life of faith, he has achieved a level of being in which value and mean- 
ing are assured beyond the power of time to destroy. Nothing that 
time can bring, neither failure nor defeat, neither sorrow nor calamity, 
can separate him from the Eternal; only a resurgence of his own sinful 
self-will can do that. But that is precisely the battle of faith. 

The eternity of salvation is also hereafter. In the prophetic-rabbinic 
vision, "this world" the world of history, with its perverseness, in- 
coherence and defeat is destined to find fulfilment and rectification 
in the "world-to-come," the "new heaven and new earth" in which 
justice and power will finally be united in the kingship of God. The 
salvation that breaks through vertically into the now and redeems us 
as individual persons from the vicious circle of sinful egocentricity is 
the salvation that is hereafter to redeem all history in the consumma- 
tion of the horizontal movement toward the Kingdom of God. In the 
Kingdom of God, the eternity that is ever present and the eternity of 
the absolute future are one. 

128 Judaism and Modern Man 


1. Solomon Schechter, Studies in Judaism (Jewish Publication Society: 
Philadelphia, 1945), Second Series, p. 178. 

2. B. Erubin 13b. 

3. Perceptive students of human ailments are coming to recognize the role 
of decision, and hence of freedom. "When their anxieties finally manifest 
themselves in some form of bodily illness," writes Flanders Dunbar of a 
certain type of patient (Mind and Body: Psychosomatic Medicine [Ran- 
dom: New York, 1947], p. 245), "they will say plaintively: 'I don't de- 
serve to have this happen to me.' Actually, of course, they do deserve it 
in the sense that they have earned it by their own reluctance to progress" 
(my italics. W. H.) . The plight into which the victim of a psychosomatic 
or purely psychic illness has gotten himself is, in one way or another, to 
some degree traceable to wrong choices in action or attitude made at 
various critical points in the past. In other words, decision in the total 
existential, not merely intellectual sense is a constitutive factor in the 
formation of the disease. It is, of course, true that at a certain stage, the 
patient's freedom of action may become so restricted as to be almost if 
not quite nonexistent. But among the factors that have operated to de- 
stroy his freedom is the wrong use he himself made of it in the past when 
it was still operative. What is true of the genesis of the disease holds also 
for its treatment and "cure." The problem is to break through the hard- 
ened crust of determinism and restore some element of the patient's free- 
dom. Hence the stress on building up the conscious self (the ego), which 
is regarded as the organ of freedom. See also Lewis J. Sherrill, "The Sense 
of Sin in Present-Day Experience," Religion in Life, Vol. VIII (Autumn, 
1939), No. 4. Sherrill contends that personality disorders can be shown 
to involve sin, since in some way they all stem from unaccepted responsi- 

4. See, for example, Edmund Bergler's work, The Battle of the Conscience 
(Washington Institute of Medicine: Washington, D. C., 1948). 

5. Augustine Confessions i. sec. 1. 

6. Pesikta rabbati (ed. Friedmann), chap. 44, Shubah 185a. 

7. "If thou, O Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, who could stand?" Ps. 130:3. 

8. Midrash r. Gen. chap, xii, No. 15. 

9. Midrash r. Gen. chap. Ix, No. 2 

10. Martin Buber, "The Faith of Judaism," Israel and the World 
(Schocken: New York, 1948), p. 18. 

"We are dependent upon grace; but we do not do God's will when we 
take it upon ourselves to begin with grace instead of beginning with our- 

God and Man 129 

selves. Only our beginning, only our having begun, poor as it is, leads us 
to grace." Buber, "The Two Foci of the Jewish Soul," Israel and the 
World, pp. 32-33. 

"The grace of forgiveness," Reinhold Niebuhr affirms, "is vouchsafed 
only to those who have consciously made the will of God their way of 
life." Beyond Tragedy (Scnbner's: New York, 1937), p. 268. 

1 1 . Israel Abrahams, Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels (Cambridge 
University: Cambridge, England, 1917), First Series, p. 147. 

12. "When fear is mentioned as the origin of religion, it is not ultimately 
the shrinking fear of fire but the reverent or awful fear of being seen 
through and through with nothing concealed and with final judgment 
impending." F. J. E. Woodbndge, An Essay on Nature (Columbia Uni- 
versity: New York, 1940), p. 321. 

13. Woodbridge, op. cit. t p. 291. 

14. Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death (Princeton University: Prince- 
ton, N. J., 1941), p. 19. 

15. Abot d. R.N., ed Schechter, version B, chap. 32, p. 71. 

16. Midrash Psalms on 120:7. 

17. Midrash Psalms on 102:18. 

18. Montefiore and Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology (Macmillan: London, 
1938), p. 230. 

19. "Where repentants stand not even the very righteous can stand." 
B. Berakot 34b. 

20. Seder Eliyahu, ed. Friedmann, p. 106; Max Kadushin, Organic Think- 
ing- A Study in Rabbinic Thought (Jewish Theological Seminary: New 
York, 1938), p. 155. 

21. Albert Salomon, "Natural Judaism," Jewish Frontier, Vol. XV (April 
1 948), No. 4. 




Man, we are told, is a social animal, and however we may interpret 
that phrase, it is certain that human life is embedded in a social con- 
text. There is, of course, a dimension to human existence which 
transcends the social and in which the individual person stands alone, 
face to face with God. But the course of human life is normally run 
within society and is conditioned by the forces of society. Human 
needs and interests emerge within social life; human aspirations, how- 
ever far-reaching, have to be realized, in part at least, through the 
means society makes available. Social institutions, on the other hand, 
obviously provide both setting and limiting conditions for human 
action. Man is not the product of society nor is he simply a cog in 
the wheel of the social mechanism, but human life altogether out of 
its social context is, even for the hermit, simply unthinkable. 

If this is true, and it is hard to see how it can reasonably be denied, 
then the relevance of religion to social life is obvious and direct. For 
religion, as we have been using the term, is the relating of man's life 
to the Absolute, and man's life in this world is inescapably social. 
Only those who deny the reality of this world or else question God's 
power over it can possibly deny the bearing of religion upon every 
phase of social life. Once we recognize that the whole of life stands 
under the divine sovereignty, 1 we are unable to consent to the with- 
drawal of any area from the ultimate concern to which religion bears 
witness. The divine imperative is seen to be directly pertinent to every 
human interest, to economics and politics as much as to "private" 
morality and devotion. In political economy, Lord Keynes has testi- 
fied, "there are practically no issues of policy, as distinct from 
technique, which do not involve ethical considerations." "If this is 
emphasized," he goes on to say, "the right of [religion] to interfere 
in what is essentially a branch of ethics becomes even more obvious." 2 
The concern of religion extends to social life because no area of human 
existence can be withdrawn from the judgment and mercy of God. 


134 Judaism and Modern Man 

These are surely commonplaces for anyone who has grasped the 
spirit of Hebraic religion. In Hebraic religion, as we have seen, time, 
history, the ongoing affairs of this world, possess the full reality and 
significance denied to them by Greek philosophy and Oriental mysti- 
cism. The God of Hebraic religion is a Living God, active in this world, 
endowing its concerns with meaning, yet keeping them under judgment 
through his activity. Social conditions really do matter for they are 
the conditions of life, and life is real. Indifference to social conditions 
must ultimately mean unconcern with life, with history, with the world; 
and this is altogether impossible for one who draws his religion from 
Scripture. Hebraic religion is social in its relevance and bearing, or 
it is nothing. 

The Hebraic ethic, grounded in the law of love of God and fellow- 
man, is a social ethic par excellence. The very notion of an "indi- 
vidual" ethic distinct from man's outgoing obligations is a construction 
of Greek philosophy and without meaning or warrant in Scripture. 3 
Rabbinic tradition, in accord with the double aspect of the law of 
love, first divides man's duties into those he owes to God and those 
he owes to his fellow-men, and then proceeds to bind the two in 
organic relation. "To love God truly one must love man. And if 
anyone tells you that he loves God and does not love his fellow-men, 
you will know he is lying." 4 The ethic of Judaism finds its source 
and power in the perfect love of God; therefore it is an ethic of total 
social responsibility. All institutions and practices of society fall within 
its scope, since social institutions and practices are, at bottom, no 
more than patterns of human behavior, and man is responsible for 
all his actions before God. The law of love as embodied, however 
inadequately, in norms of justice is ultimately the law of all social 

What does religion, in its effort to interpret the mercy and judgment 
of God, say to society? It says both yes and no, and then moves on 
to a synthesis of its affirmation and denial. 

Religion says yes to society because the very being of society as 
such must be regarded as part of the divine order of creation. Man, 
according to the Scriptural account, left the hand of his Maker with 
his natural structure and impulses so ordered as to enable him to live 

Religion and Society 135 

the happy and harmonious life for which he was meant. His need for 
community which society makes possible must be taken as part of 
his God-given nature and therefore part of the creation which God 
saw and pronounced good. Community is not something external to 
man and alien to his essential nature. On the contrary, it is that 
through which man realizes his personality and in which he actualizes 
his being. If therefore we conceive of normative human life as life true 
to the intent of the Creator, we must necessarily regard community 
in society as part of the divine order of creation, as an "ordinance" 
of God for the proper ordering of human life. However much we may 
condemn any particular social institution and no particular social 
institution is exempt from judgment society as such must be basi- 
cally affirmed. Hebraic religion cannot make any concession to that 
type of otherworldly, ultraindividualistic spirituality which sees the re- 
lation of man to man as simply an encumbrance on the human soul 
in its search for salvation. The perfection we are called upon to 
achieve in this life is a perfection of self-giving love and that is im- 
possible without some structure of society. Even the ultimate I-Thou 
relation with God is, as Buber so insistently points out, a relation that 
involves also our fellow-man as the "other" in a community of love. 
To turn our back upon society in radical denial is to turn our back 
upon God's creation and upon the destiny for which we are meant 
in the totality of that creation. 

In community and community alone, in the I-Thou communion 
of love which breaks down all barriers of sinful self-centeredness, is 
the full realization of personality to be attained. Self-enclosed ex- 
istence is sinful and perverse; ultimately it destroys the very thing 
it strives to achieve. Now society is not to be identified with com- 
munity, of course; in its actual functioning, it exhibits altogether too 
much of disharmony and conflict to make such simple identification 
possible. But if community is not society, it is certainly not to be 
achieved in this world outside of society. Society provides the possi- 
bility for the establishment of genuine person-to-person community 
on the human level and therefore opens the way for receiving and re- 
sponding to the love of God. It is precisely as such that society is to 
be ultimately comprehended as part of the divine order of creation. 
As part of the divine order, it contributes to the end for which man 

136 Judaism and Modern Man 

is ordained by sustaining life and providing the matrix out of which 
true community may spring. 

Religion, therefore, if it stands witness to the purposes of the Living 
God, must begin by saying yes to society. There is still another way 
in which the basically positive relation of religion to society becomes 
manifest. For whatever may be its overt attitude, religion enters in- 
tegrally into society as the "spirit" of the culture of which society is 
the embodiment. That religion does play this role in culture is a com- 
monplace of history, but it is a commonplace that needs to be reiter- 
ated today. For in no way is the inner disorganization of contemporary 
society more strikingly displayed than in the state of religion in our 

In primitive societies, religion and culture are virtually identical. 
Even in the advanced societies of ancient times, this identity was not 
broken. City-state and empire were religious institutions as much as 
secular, if indeed the distinction can be intelligibly made. Conven- 
tions, laws and sanctions in social life were part of the texture of tra- 
ditional religion, which was "official" simply because it was, so to 
speak, the sacramental aspect of the accepted way of life of the com- 
munity. This was pre-eminently true of Jewish society, in principle 
and where possible in practice, throughout most of its history. Nor, 
despite the gradual emergence of autonomous interests and fields of 
activity, did it remain much less true of Western society until the dawn 
of modern times. 

For the past four or five centuries, the overt connection between 
religion and society has been broken. But it would be well to look 
a little more closely into the meaning of this rupture and of the con- 
sequent secularization of modern life. Does it mean that religion no 
longer plays a central role in our culture? It we think only of the 
historical religions of the West, of Judaism and Christianity, then, of 
course, we must say that this is the case. In relation to these religions, 
Western society has indeed become largely secular. Vast areas of life 
have freed themselves from what we have been accustomed to call 
religion and have established their claim to autonomy. But we should 
not overlook how equivocal this secular emancipation actually is. 
Judaism and Christianity no longer dominate the life of Western so- 

Religion and Society 137 

ciety. But that is not because our social life has rid itself of religious 
influence; it is only because the traditional religions have been dis- 
placed, so far as influence on social life is concerned, by a legion of 
so-called "secular faiths," for which we have as yet no names but 
which we know only too well by their works. What expresses better 
the "spirit" of our social institutions and collective behavior than the 
latter-day cults of scientism, nationalism, fascism and communism? 
These are not ordinarily called religions, but under any functional 
definition of the term, they must be so regarded. No one observing 
the ways of modern man in the West, and increasingly even in the 
East, can ignore the fact that it is to science and technology that he 
looks for salvation and the solution of the problems of life. Nor can 
anyone observing, let us say, French or American society, with its 
round of patriotic festivals replacing the holidays of Church and Syn- 
agogue in all but name, with its elaborate patriotic ritual flag- 
saluting, anthem-singing, wreath-laying replacing the observances 
of the liturgical year, deny that the everyday religion of public life is 
really nationalism ("democracy," "la Patrie"). In all that goes to 
make up religion, the operative religion of Nazi Germany was a racist 
fascism and the operative religion of Soviet Russia is a totalitarian 
communism. Modern society has not rid itself of religion, as it fondly 
believes; it has merely replaced the historical religions by a host of 
idolatrous cults struggling for possession of the soul of man. 

When Western society, at the dawn of the modern age, first raised 
its challenge to traditional religion, the immediate consequence was 
the fragmentation of life into a number of autonomous areas, each 
dominated by its own ultimate principle. Economics, politics, ethics, 
education, art, indeed religion itself, came to be regarded as distinct 
and independent spheres of life operating under their own peculiar 
laws. In effect, this meant the establishment of a kind of polytheism 
of ultimates, grouped together in a loosely organized pantheon. In- 
sofar as he was recognized as having jurisdiction over the field called 
"religion," the Living God was graciously included in this pantheon 
along with the rest. For a time, this mild and tolerant polytheism 
proved culturally viable, even productive of some good; for one thing, 
it broke the grip of an oppressive and monopolistic ecclesiasticism 
upon the social and intellectual life of the West. But no such loose 

138 Judaism and Modern Man 

polytheism can be ultimately tenable. The various aspects of ex- 
istence, each dissociated from the rest and each claiming to be 
a law unto itself, tend to fly apart. Life, fragmented and distracted 
by conflicting allegiances, loses its unity and center of meaning; it 
becomes confused, anarchic, quite literally unlivable. Some center 
of meaning, some principle of unity, has to be found. Unity and mean- 
ing for life, however, can be established in only one of two ways: 
either in terms of the Living God who transcends yet embraces all life, 
or else in terms of some partial aspect of life elevated to absolute 
significance. The dominant secular spirit has hitherto blocked the 
way to a return to the transcendent source of our being. Is it any 
wonder, then, that modem man, in his craving for unity and mean- 
ing to life, has been turning in mass to the totalitarian cults of our 
time, among which nationalism, in its more extreme forms at least, 
must certainly be counted? A new "age of faith" seems to be in the 
offing, but whether or not it is to be an age of demonic idolatry, only 
the future that is, we ourselves in our decisions today can de- 

However that may be, it is plain that the modern world is no ex- 
ception to what history reveals to be the relation between religion and 
society. In the modern world, as much as in the ancient or medieval, 
religion is not only a primary formative influence within society but 
its final expression as well. It is still true that the kind of society we 
build for ourselves depends fundamentally upon the kind of beliefs 
we entertain as to the nature and purpose of the universe and the 
place of man within it. It is still true, as Maix once said, though in 
a sense rather different from his, that the criticism of the religion of 
a society is potentially the criticism of the society of which it is the 
religion. 5 

Not perhaps since the decay of the Hellenistic-Roman world has 
Hebraic religion faced a greater challenge than it does today. If it 
is to make good its claim to be relevant to man's social existence, it 
must somehow find a way of overcoming the spiritual disintegration 
of contemporary life and of informing contemporary society with its 
intensely theocentric spirit. Religion, in the comprehensive sense in 
which we have used the term, supplies the cohesive force which uni- 
fies a society and its culture. Only the religion of the Living God 

Religion and Society 139 

can drive out the legion of demons infesting our world and give it the 
unity and power it needs for survival. 

Religion, therefore, says yes to society both by affirming it as part 
of the divine order of creation and by striving to reconstruct and unify 
it in its own spirit. But it cannot stop at this point. It must go on 
to say no as well. While society is to be affirmed as part of the divine 
order of creation, no particular social order or social institution can 
be so affirmed. And although religion strives to inform society with 
its animating spirit, it can never sanctify any social order as being un- 
equivocally the embodiment of the true faith. Social order may be 
affirmed but every social order must be placed under judgment. Social 
institutions may be upheld for what they do to promote and imple- 
ment the divine imperative, but it must be understood that, from the 
ultimate standpoint, no social institution can ever fully measure up 
to or incarnate the law of love. 

Hebraic religion says no to society whenever society, in its pride, 
makes claims to absoluteness. 6 Society, in which men see them- 
selves, their ideals and impulses writ large, is easily tempted into 
making absolute claims because in doing so it merely serves as a 
mask for that deep-rooted human drive to self-absolutization which 
we have seen to be at the heart of sin. 

Society is a necessary condition of life in this world and a necessary 
medium of personal self-realization through community; that is why 
we hold it to be part of the order of creation. But to assert this is 
very far from asserting that man can achieve his true destiny only in 
and through society. Such a claim would make society itself the ulti- 
mate end of man and thus turn it into a devouring idol. Personal self- 
realization in faith and love needs society for its development, 
but it possesses a dimension and a goal of which society knows 
nothing. Ultimately, man stands related to God and fellow-man 
in a bond which no society can comprehend or social institution 

Community, let us remember, is not society. Community is a free 
I-Thou relation of mutuality involving personal decision on both sides. 
It is, as Buber puts it, the "between-man-and-man." It is the matrix 
of true personality: "The meeting of man with himself can take place 

. 140 Judaism and Modern Man 

only as the meeting of the individual with his fellow-man." 7 It is also 
in a sense a phase of redemptive communion with God. 

Society, on the other hand, is objective. Man enters it as an "It" 
not as a "Thou." It involves, to some extent at least, institutionaliza- 
tion, bureaucracy and coercion. Institutionalization means objectifi- 
cation, depersonalization, the conversion of the unique and irreplace- 
able person into a unit, a number, a card in the file. Bureaucratization 
means social stratification, with its system of differential status, power 
and privilege. Coercion means the enforced subjection of man to 
man in violation of the law of love and the prerogative of God. All 
of these are necessary to society but they are all destructive of true 

This ambiguity of relation between community and society deter- 
mines the ambivalent attitude of religion to the sphere of social life. 
The divine imperative of love is realized in community, and society 
is therefore justified religiously insofar as it is necessary for and con- 
ducive to community among men. But, by the same token, those in- 
herent tendencies of society, such as institutionalization, bureaucra- 
tism and coercion, which imperil community must necessarily fall 
under judgment as violations of the divine intent. Precisely in order 
to achieve free community, man must not permit himself to be totally 
engulfed in the social whole. For man concrete, individual man 
has a place in the divine order and an end in life which no society can 

The vindication of the uniqueness and significance of the individual 
was one of the great achievements of the Hebrew prophets, and with 
the prophetic tradition it passed into Judaism and Christianity. No 
ancient civilization had the least inkling of it, not even the Greek, 
to which we owe so much of our culture. The metaphysical category 
of the individual is utterly lacking in Greek thought. In the Greek 
scheme of things, the individual could find salvation only in and 
through the polls (city, state, society, culture). 8 He possessed no 
ultimate point of vantage on which he could take his stand to resist 
the total claims of society; he was, therefore, in the end bound to be 
absorbed by the all-engulfing social totality. 

Modern totalitarianism is a monstrously exaggerated and far more 

Religion and Society 141 

effective reassertion of this philosophy. For totalitarianism is not 
merely a political system; it makes its claim as a spiritual regime, as 
a way of life. Everything is subjected to social control: no corner of 
existence is left free, not so much as a nook or cranny is overlooked. 
Everything is ordered and regulated by society one's work and play, 
one's education and leisure, one's thoughts and emotions, one's loves 
and hates; yes, one's religion, too, for under totalitarianism no man 
can call his soul his own. There is no escape, no refuge, from the 
stifling omnipresence of society and state. There is no privacy. 

Yet it is the freedom of privacy out of which true community grows 
and in which man meets God. "We can have dealings with God only 
as an individual person," Martin Buber says; "the collectivity cannot 
enter." Against the total claim of society, religion must raise its 
voice in the name of community and man's true end. 

Totalitarianism is not merely a particular regime restricted to 
some country or section of the world. It is an inner tendency of every 
society, in the sense in which society is distinguished from community. 
It is operative wherever society confronts the individual with the claim 
to being the whole of life. When society makes this claim, even though 
it is only by implication, Hebraic religion answers: No! Society is 
not the whole of life; man is meant for something more and something 
higher than society. 

The no with which religion meets the total claims of society, it 
extends also to the absolute claims of any and every social institution. 
Hebraic religion proclaims the law of love to be the final rule of life. 
It is an imperative that on the social level impels toward ever greater 
effort for the "realization of life" (Buber) in terms of personality 
and community. It is an affirmation in terms of which social institu- 
tions are both justified and judged. They are justified insofar as they 
represent attempts to achieve some better balance of justice in society 
and to provide a more adequate social basis for true community 
among men. But however justified, they can never have more than a 
relative and transitory significance. Once they permit themselves to 
forget this fact, once they are tempted to deny their merely relative 
validity and begin to make pretensions to finality and absoluteness, 

142 Judaism and Modern Man 

they become structures of sin, the expression of self-seeking special 
interests and the instruments of injustice and oppression. As such, 
they fall under the judgment of God. 

That is what is happening to the economic institutions of capitalism 
in our time. And that is what is bound to happen to every social in- 
stitution and every social system at some point of its career. No social 
institution or system is absolute; none is eternal. Eternal only is the 
Living God and his law of love, which no social institution can ever 
fully embody and which every social institution must to some degree 

On this level, Hebraic religion must repeat its resolute no. It can- 
not mitigate its insistence that every social order stands under divine 
judgment and no social institution, no matter how necessary or useful, 
is exempt from criticism. The prophetic outlook is so radical because 
it refuses to accept as final the self-justifying claims and pretensions 
of any institution whatsoever, whether of civil society, church or state. 
All, even the best, are infected with relativity and injustice; all will 
at some point have to be transcended and there can be no final 
stopping place within history. 

No reader who has followed the argument thus far will have missed 
the affinity of the prophetic viewpoint to much that goes by the name 
of secular liberalism. For the prophetic affirmation, which is at the 
heart of Hebraic religion, is an affirmation of a God-centered rela- 
tivism: God alone is eternal and absolute; all else is relative and pass- 
ing and subject to judgment. It is easy to see how this viewpoint 
leaves room for the pluralism and social relativism upon which secular 
liberalism sets such store. But it escapes the pitfall of secular liberal- 
ism by refusing to absolutize any of the so-called "liberal values," 
whether democracy, "intelligence," or scientific method. Prophetic 
religion refuses to turn these ideas, institutions or practices, for all 
their acknowledged value, into idolatrous absolutes, and thus saves 
them from becoming the vehicles of destructive, ideologizing cults. 
It disengages what is enduring in the liberal tradition and preserves it 
from the corruption of false absolutism. And no wonder it can do 
this, for in the last analysis it is the source from which these liberal 
values are derived. 

The no of religion to society is a no to the inordinate pretensions 

Religion and. Society 143 

and self-absolutizing claims of society and the state. Hebraic religion 
cannot and will not admit that society is the whole of life or that any 
social institution whatever is above judgment and criticism in terms 
of the "higher law" revealed in the divine imperative. It says no to 
society or the state or the church when any of these dares to exalt 
itself and call for the worship of total allegiance. Only God can 
make total claims on man, and no institution of society, not even all 
together or society as a whole, is ever identical with God. 

Religion informed with the Hebraic spirit, therefore, exhibits a 
double and basically ambivalent attitude to society. It affirms and 
even serves society so long as the latter is aware of its own limitations 
and is content to serve the purposes for which it was meant in the 
order of creation. But it is compelled to challenge society the moment 
the latter forgets its place in the scheme of things and pretends to be 
the whole of life beyond challenge or criticism. Under such condi- 
tions, religion is true to its vocation only if it rises in revolt against 
society, against the age, against what often appears to be the ines- 
capable "wave of the future." For it is the vocation of religion ever 
to bear witness to the Living God against the idolatries of the world. 

The yes and the no which religion speaks to society are not two 
separate words, separately uttered in isolation. The final word of re- 
ligion to society is a fused, a dialectical yes-no. No social institution 
is ever so evil or corrupt that a vestige of the divine intent is not to 
be discerned in it. On the other hand, no institution or social order 
is ever so just or perfect that it can claim to be final. Amidst the 
relativities of social life, as amidst the relativities of life in general, 
we move under the obligation of making responsible choices. No abso- 
lutes, no infallible rules, no simple confrontations of good and evil, 
right and wrong, are available. We must judge and choose and act 
in terms of the relative. But we can so judge and choose and act only 
because we have in the divine imperative of the law of love an abso- 
lute criterion which, while it transcends the possibilities of social life, 
is also directly relevant to every social decision. Yet here, too, we 
cannot escape relativity. We judge and choose and act in the way 
that, in the humility of our faith, seems to us to come closest to the 
divine will. But we know that our judgment likewise is infected with 

144 Judaism and Modern Man 

fallibility and perverted by self-interest. We therefore decide and act, 
because act we must, but we do so "in fear and trembling," praying 
for divine mercy and trusting that divine grace will complete and 
purge the ambiguous enterprises that go to make up the life of man 
in history. 

Hebraic religion does not, like Greek and Oriental spirituality, re- 
ject the world and human society as unreal, evil or beyond redemp- 
tion; nor does it, like the secular cults of our day, take society as final 
and ultimate. Hebraic religion affirms the world without deifying it; 
it sanctions society but does not sanctify it. In the final analysis, what 
it does, in the social sphere as in every other, is to call men to total 
love of God and to warn them against the pitfalls of idolatry. 


1. "The world of faith, the foundations of which are fixed in the whole- 
ness of a community life subservient to God, guards against the division 
into two realms, the realm of myth and cult, heaven and the temple, sub- 
ject to religion, and the civic and economic realm, the reality of everyday 
public life, subject to special laws of politics, civic politics and economic 
politics" (Martin Buber, Prophetic Faith [Macmillan: New York, 1949J, 
p. 85). 

"Man can fulfill the obligations of his partnership with God by no 
spiritual attitude, by no worship or sacred upper storey; the whole life is 
required, every one of its areas and every one of its circumstances." 
Buber, "The Two Foci of the Jewish Soul," Israel and the World (Shocken: 
New York, 1948), p. 33. 

2. Letter of J. M. Keynes to Archbishop William Temple, quoted m 
F. A. Iremonger, William Temple (Oxford University: London, 1948), 
pp. 438-39. 

3. Emil Brunner, The Divine Imperative (Westminster: Philadelphia, 
1947), p. 308. 

4. Buber, "Love of God and Love of One's Neighbor," Hasidism (Philo- 
sophical Library: New York, 1948), p. 168. Cf. I John 4:20: "If a man 
says he loves God and yet hates his neighbor, he is a liar." 

5. Karl Marx, "Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right," Selected 
Essays (International Publishers: New York, 1926), pp. 12-13. 

6. In the ancient Yom Kippur ritual, the High Priest was wont to come 

Religion and Society 145 

before the assembled multitude and confess first the sins of himself and 
his house and then the sins of the entire people. Thus he acknowledged 
that even the appointed ministers of the divine cult, even the covenant- 
people itself, stood guilty under the judgment of God. This part of the 
ritual is preserved in the Avodah of our present Yom Kippur service. 

7. Buber, "What is Man?" Between Man and Man (Kegan Paul: London, 
1947), p. 201. 

8. "Greek rationalism had no organ for the free individual. The idea 
of the right of the individual to possess a sphere of his own was alien 
to the Greeks. The government was in total control of the community, 
and whatever freedom the individual might acquire he could gain only 
through participation in government. The Greek soul did not demand a 
field in life all to itself and beyond the social order" (Hajo Holborn, 
"Greek and Modern Concepts of History," Journal of the History of 
Ideas, Vol. X (January, 1949), No. 1. 

9. Buber, "The Question to the Single One," Between Man and Man, 
pp. 43, 80. 


However much they may differ in every other respect, all cultures 
known to history profess to prize justice as the paramount value of 
social life. Institutions, customs and traditions may vary, but all so- 
cieties are alike in making this profession; even the modern totali- 
tarian absolutisms have their Ministries of Justice! "To establish justice 
in the land" is the acknowledged responsibility of every organized 
society, and to act justly an obligation universally imposed upon every 
member of society. The content of justice may differ from group to 
group, the range of its application may vary quite widely, and the 
standards it imposes may be most grossly violated in practice, but the 
principle of justice is a principle almost synonymous with human 

The universality of the concept of justice presents a problem to 
philosopher and historian. In Western tradition, this problem has 
been generally met by affirming justice to be innate in the human 

146 Judaism and Modern Man 

heart as a manifestation of "natural law" ("natural right"), which 
is itself conceived to be the deliverance of human reason contemplating 
the nature of man. This view, ultimately derived from Stoic philoso- 
phy and Roman law, holds a double difficulty: it can never convinc- 
ingly show how justice or any other aspect of "natural law" may 
actually be deduced by human reason from the given nature of man, 
nor does it leave place for the wide variations in the content of justice 
that human societies do in fact display. It claims too much for human 
reason and therefore allows too little to the contingent factors of 

In the traditional Jewish view, justice is held to be a divine com- 
mandment and its universality accounted for by the fact that it was 
given to the "sons of Noah" (or of Adam) that is, to the entire hu- 
man race. The command to do justice and to implement its enforce- 
ment is, in one form or another, included in all versions of the so-called 
Noahite, or Adamite, laws, and in some it stands first. 1 This view does 
not assert that human reason can of itself excogitate the concept of 
justice and fill it with rational content valid for all times and places. 
Such speculative pretensions are foreign to the Hebraic mind. What it 
does maintain is that the demand for justice confronts man not simply 
as a manifestation of his culture or a projection of his self-interest, but 
as a demand of the transcendent Power who is the Lord of life. And 
I think that this claim is far truer to the facts of existence than the 
rationalistic doctrine of "natural law." 

The universality of justice is our point of departure. Yet for all 
its universality, justice seems strangely infected with relativity. It does 
not require much familiarity with history or anthropology to recognize 
that standards of justice are in fact greatly influenced by the general 
level of culture, by social structure and the balance of social forces, 
and by the pressures of group interest. This much, at least, of socio- 
logical relativism we all must grant, even though, following Wester- 
marck and others, 2 we may emphasize the large element of uniformity 
amidst the seeming chaos of "folkways." We have not forgotten Pas- 
cal's ironic exclamation, "Three degrees of latitude reverse all juris- 
prudence"; 3 and we have not forgotten Marx. 

But granting relativity all it may legitimately claim, there still seems 
to remain an inexpugnable element of absoluteness. Quite apart from 

Religion and Society 147 

the particular social order, quite apart from the accepted system of 
standards, men may be just and unjust. It is even possible for a judge 
to enforce justly an obviously unjust law and, contrariwise, to en- 
force unjustly a just law. There thus seems to be a conception of 
justice that transcends the relative standards of any particular system 
and is the same for all systems. This is the conception of justice as 
the unbiased, impartial adjustment of conflicting claims in terms of 
some determinate standard. The just judge is he who applies this 
standard, whatever it may be, without fear or favor; the unjust judge 
is he who lets prejudice or interest or any other extraneous factor in- 
terfere with his judgment. It is this conception of justice as even- 
handed that is proclaimed in the biblical injunction, "Thou shalt not 
wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons . . . Justice, justice 
shalt thou follow" (Deut. 16: 19-20). 4 And in such a sense, justice 
is indeed absolute. 

We have, then, reached this conclusion: To act justly is a universal 
obligation laid upon man by God the particular laws or standards 
of justice, however, vary greatly and are therefore infected with rela- 
tivity yet whatever the standards may be, there is a justice, a "right- 
eousness" in judgment, that transcends them and is therefore, in a 
sense, absolute. 

But this does not exhaust the dialectic of justice. The standards 
of justice of any social order the content of the concept of justice 
in that particular society are embodied in a complex of customs, laws 
and institutions. But unless we adopt a legal positivism which holds 
justice to be nothing more than the command of a deified society, we 
must recognize that it is possible to brand existing laws and institu- 
tions and standards of justice as unjust; it is even possible to denounce 
an entire social order as unjust and to demand one that is more just 
and equitable. No social order or institution is, in principle, exempt 
from this criticism and demand. There is, then, some criterion of 
justice, aside from unbiased enforcement, by which standards of jus- 
tice, as embodied in laws, institutions and systems, may themselves 
be judged. 

But how can that be? In terms of what standard can any particular 
standard of justice be judged? And is that standard itself relative? 
We seem to be caught up in an endless chain, a vicious circle, of rela- 

148 Judaism and Modern Man 

tivity. Unless we can find something absolute in which to anchor our 
judgment, justice, for all its universality, is bound to collapse into 
a welter of incommensurable concepts and standards. It would then 
be impossible to use the words "just" and "unjust" at all in any 
normative sense. 

A point of anchorage in the absolute we can find, but to do so we 
must go beyond justice. The ultimate criterion of justice, as of every- 
thing else in human life, is the divine imperative the law of love. 

Justice is the institutionalization of love in society. "The ideal of 
the religion of Israel," Moore states, "was society in which all the re- 
lations of men to their fellows were governed by the principle, Thou 
shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.' " 5 This law of love requires that 
every man be treated as a Thou, a person, an end in himself, never 
merely as a thing or a means to another's end. When this demand is 
translated into laws and institutions under the conditions of human 
life in history, justice arises. Because the demand of love is institu- 
tionalized, it is relativized and therefore in some measure violated and 
falsified. Yet that is the only way it can be made regularly operative 
in collective life. In its ultimate bearing, the commandment of love, 
of course, transcends all social arrangements, but unless it is to remain 
mere ideal and sentiment, it must find some way of enforcing itself 
in and through the institutions of society. This it does by establishing 
norms of justice. 

We have already, in an earlier chapter, discussed the dialectic rela- 
tion between love and justice, and everything we said there is directly 
relevant to the present problem. Justice is at once the outworking of 
love in social life and its denial. Let us note that whereas justice 
would be impossible did men give no acknowledgment whatever to 
the law of love, it would be unnecessary did the law of love prevail in 
the relations of men in society. 6 Justice calls for the impartial allot- 
ment to each of what is rightfully his of the goods that men in society 
have at their disposal. But in true community founded on love, such a 
problem could never arise, for in the self-giving of love, there is no 
"mine" and "thine," 7 and all claims are merged in a genuine identity of 
interest. It is because love fails in the collective life of sinful men and 
what does sinfulness mean except that love fails? it is because love 

Religion and Society 149 

fails that justice is instituted among men. For without some structure 
of justice, the failure of love in social life would leave every man ex- 
posed to the unrestrained aggressions of every other and thus reduce 
society to utter chaos. In this sense, justice is indeed, as it is declared 
in tradition, the foundation of every social order, one of the pillars 
of the universe. 8 

The implementation of justice in laws and institutions brings with 
it all the ambiguities that inhere in collective life. It means institu- 
tionalization; it means bureaucratism; it means coercion. It means 
the adaptation of the norms and procedures of justice to the historical 
structure of the society and to the particular constellation of social 
forces. It means the inevitable compounding of the ideals of justice 
with expediency, power and self-interest. No system of justice is ever 
exempt from these corrupting influences, and therefore no system of 
justice, no matter how exalted, can ever claim to be final or perfect. 

The tension of justice can be resolved only in love, but such resolu- 
tion is not possible within history. Social life requires both freedom 
and order, both equality and subordination. In love, these contra- 
dictions are taken up and dissolved; under the rule of justice, how- 
ever, they must remain ever in tension, in a precarious and constantly 
changing balance of claims and counterclaims raised by men in pur- 
suit of their interests. 

Justice is therefore no abstract formula of eternal validity through 
which the conflicts of men can be simply and fully resolved. To claim 
such an eternal and timeless quality for justice is the error of the 
doctrine of "natural law." The principle of a "just wage," for ex- 
ample, has no power to settle a dispute between employer and em- 
ployee in the way that the rules of arithmetic can settle a dispute in 
computation; neither this principle nor any other is capable of es- 
tablishing a suprapartisan truth to which both sides must submit out 
of sheer logical necessity. That is not how justice works in this world. 
Injustice, particularly social injustice, is, at bottom, due to inordinate 
disproportions of power in society, making it possible for some men 
to exploit and oppress others. Justice, therefore, requires an equaliza- 
tion of power; it strives to achieve a sort of moving equilibrium, a 
shifting adjustment of conflicting claims and interests, which them- 
selves reflect and are conditioned by the given structure of society. 

150 Judaism and Modern Man 

Jewish tradition, for all its exaltation of justice, does not fail to recog- 
nize its relative aspects. "Wherever there is strict truth," a remarkable 
passage in the Jerusalem Talmud tells us, "there cannot be peaceful 
judgment; wherever there is peaceful judgment, there cannot be strict 
truth. How then can one combine both? Only by an equitable settle- 
ment . . ," 9 Both are satisfied, but neither fully. That is the nature 
of justice. 

Because justice is so embedded in its social context, it will inevitably 
reflect the relativities and ambiguities yes, the injustices of the 
order in which it is involved. But because it is rooted in the law of 
love, it possesses the power of transcending its own limitations. For 
not only does justice require the impartial adjustment of claim and 
counterclaim within the framework of the social order; it requires 
also a criticism of the social order itself and of its system of justice in 
terms of a higher law, the law of love, the standard by which all 
human enterprises must ultimately be judged. Thus can justice rise 
above society and its institutions; thus can it bring society and its in- 
stitutions before its bar for judgment; thus can it demand a more just, 
a more equitable, social order. But in doing so, it is no longer merely 
the institutional justice within society; it is the transcendent justice 
that ever stands under the sign of the eternal law of love. 

Justice, which starts with love as its life-giving source, thus returns 
to it as its final law. Social justice will never be fully attained until 
men live as equals in free community. This means not only that it 
can never be attained in history but that, when it is attained, it is no 
longer justice that prevails but love. The law of love is involved in 
all the approximations of justice, not merely as the source of every 
particular set of norms but also as the standpoint from which the 
limitations of these norms are discovered and subjected to judgment. 10 
The regulative function of the law of love can be said to operate along 
two dimensions: in the first place, it requires us to go "beyond the 
limits of the law" in our dealings with our fellow-men, no matter how 
just the law may be, thus permitting love to temper the necessary 
rigors of justice; and, secondly, it requires us to place under judgment 
every historical embodiment of justice and to strive to achieve a higher 
level, less in conflict with the divine imperative. Deprived of this 
ultimate perspective, justice becomes a vehicle of power and oppres- 

Religion and Society 151 

sion, a citadel of injustice. Only love can provide the leaven to keep 
justice fresh and ever changing and hence free from the corruption 
of idolatrous absolutization. 11 

Perhaps the most crucial area in the concern over social justice 
today is the realm of economic life. For economics is, in a very real 
sense, basic to social existence. Marx was not entirely wrong in this 
insight, however mistaken may be the general idea of "historical ma- 
terialism"; and Freud has confirmed the emphasis from an entirely 
different direction. "Laying stress upon the importance of work," 
Freud says, "has a greater effect than any other technique of living 
in the direction of binding the individual more closely to reality; in 
his work he is at least securely attached to a part of reality, the human 
community." 12 The problem of "economic justice", of a "just" eco- 
nomic order, has always been of central concern to mankind, never 
more so than in the past century and a half. 

But what is economic justice? Which economic system is the just 
one? Is it medieval corporatism, free-enterprise capitalism or collec- 
tivist socialism, or perhaps some other as yet unknown? Clearly, no 
answer is possible in the abstract. The problem of economic justice 
is a problem of the actual functioning of economic institutions under 
concrete historical conditions. Neither authentic Jewish nor authentic 
Christian religion endows any particular economic order with special 
sanctity. The prophets spared no detail in denouncing the economic 
evils of their time, which they traced to pride and idolatry, but they 
refrained from vesting any particular economic program with divine 
sanction; the only really "positive" note they struck was a call to 
repentance and return to God. All systems and programs were but 
the contrivance of men and therefore none could claim any final 
validity. What our religious tradition does give us is a basic attitude. 
The social attitude of Hebraic religion holds it to be the will of God 
that the resources of nature and the fruits of human creativity, which 
are a divine gift, 13 should be used for the satisfaction of human needs 
and the enhancement of human welfare. And the institutions arising 
out of economic activity are to be judged by how well they serve 
these ends and, even more comprehensively, by how they affect the 
total life of man in society 

152 Judaism and Modern Man 

Since the conditioning circumstances of social life are in process 
of constant change, no institution, certainly no economic institution, 
can be finally evaluated once and for all. Judgments have to be made 
in the light of the particular conditions and always in terms of the 
balance of good over evil. But though the judgments may be relative 
and changing, the criterion is constant and absolute. 

The ultimate criterion in economics is that which governs social 
life in all its aspects: the degree to which human persons are treated 
as ends in themselves, of equal worth and dignity as children of God 
and bearers of the divine image. This criterion demands true com- 
munity and condemns the exploitation as well as the coercion of man 
by man. It condemns above all what Marx called Verdinghchung of 
the worker by the economic system that is, his conversion into a 
thing, into a mere cog in the wheel of a vast impersonal mechanism. 

By this criterion, all economic institutions and all economic systems 
must be found wanting, since all, being institutions devised and oper- 
ated by sinful men, are bound to become in some degree vehicles of 
pride and greed. But not to the same degree. Some institutions may 
encourage the evils of economic life, whereas others may be so con- 
structed as to check these evils and to divert or block the sinful 
impulses of men. On the other hand, institutions may promote or re- 
tard the capacity of society to produce, which is surely a basic factor 
in all economic calculations, since it is production which provides the 
indispensable condition for life itself and therefore for the good life. 
Indeed, material production the conversion of the resources of 
nature to serve human needs is part of man's vocation in this world, 
in pursuit of which he is said to imitate and continue the creative 
activity of God. 14 The essential problem of economic justice may 
thus be formulated somewhat as follows: What kind of economic in- 
stitutions, under the given conditions, will best serve to sustain the 
values of personality-in-community, with due regard to the technical 
requirements of production? 

The answer, of course, varies with time, place and circumstance, 
and to deal with the problem responsibly requires more than the repeti- 
tion of moralizing phrases and doctrinaire slogans. Economics is 
indeed a branch of ethics, and ethics a branch of theology, as such 
eminent economists as R. H. Tawney and Lord Keynes have pointed 

Religion and Society 153 

out, but between the ethical and theological presuppositions, on the 
one side, and the economic conclusions, on the other, there is a vast 
middle ground in which special knowledge and experienced judgment 
are the prime requisites. That economics has ultimate ethical bear- 
ings does not imply that the economist is to be replaced by the moralist 
or theologian; on the contrary, specialized knowledge and technical 
competence are endowed with even greater significance in view of the 
ultimate issues to which they are related. But it must be a knowledge 
and training possessed by men aware of these issues and fully con- 
scious of their moral responsibility. 

All of these considerations are directly relevant to our own eco- 
nomic dilemma. The economic system known as capitalism today 
stands under judgment. Through the operations of this system, great 
accumulations of private wealth are piled up in society, giving rise to 
corresponding concentrations of social power in the hands of a few, 
those who own and control the economic process at its key points. 
The results are inescapable want, insecurity and social dependence 
for large masses of people, and, only too often, economic chaos and 
social conflict as well. Very few responsible observers today would 
care to deny that the existing economic setup stands in need of far- 
reaching and thoroughgoing reconstruction. In order to meet the re- 
quirements by which all social institutions are judged, it must be 
transformed into a system designed for human welfare and controlled 
democratically, far more than today, by the people as producers, con- 
sumers and citizens. 

This would seem to mean socialism, as the term has traditionally 
been employed. But here another consideration enters. Experience 
has painfully shown that the replacement of capitalist private property 
by collectivism may become the economic basis of an all-engulfing 
totalitarianism, in which the evils of even the most unregulated capi- 
talism arc far outdone. Such is the lesson of Russian communism and, 
in another way, of German nazism. The goal, therefore, cannot be a 
totally collectivized economy. It must be rather the kind of recon- 
struction of economic life that will enhance human freedom and avoid 
totalitarianism by developing an economy in which all economic 
power whether public or private is subject to effective institutional 
restraints and controls. As to which fields of economic life shall re- 

154 Judaism and Modern Man 

main privately operated and which shall be transferred to public 
agencies, and to what degree, that, too, cannot be a preconceived 
dogma but must be determined by circumstances. 

Once we have said this, we are again forced to recognize how rela- 
tive and provisional our recipe for economic justice really is. We are 
no longer able to advance a doctrinaire system in which all the evils 
of life will be eliminated and pure justice attained. The best we can 
do is to put forward a program of social reform through which, we 
have reason to believe, a higher level of justice can be achieved in 
economic life. 15 But we can make no absolute claims, either for our 
program as such or for its permanent validity. No institutional setup, 
even if it is the very best under the circumstances, is ever the last word 
in social justice. The stabilization of any system, no matter how just 
and free, as final inevitably becomes the stabilization of the unfreedom 
and injustice within it. The absolute imperative of the divine law, pre- 
cisely because it is binding and yet impossible of full realization in the 
course of history, places every economic and social achievement under 
judgment, and from that judgment none is exempt. 

In a way, the prophetic principle here enunciated is more revolu- 
tionary than even the most revolutionary secular philosophy, for 
whereas secular philosophies are always expecting to build the perfect 
society in this world, after which there will no longer be any need or 
reason for change, the prophetic view holds that no social order within 
history can ever be regarded as final, so that men must never permit 
themselves to rest content with things as they are. On the other hand, 
just because all social institutions are so inescapably relative, there is 
none that is totally devoid of the divine intent : even Sodom had its 
justice; even a robber band cannot maintain itself without some sem- 
blance of mutual confidence and internal law. What we can achieve 
is never pure justice as against pure injustice; it is always no more 
than a somewhat higher measure of justice under the circumstances. 
But this "somewhat higher," this merely relative task, is of the greatest 
significance for the moral life. 

What then of "true" justice? Is it nothing but a phrase, a mere il- 
lusion? No; it is a reality but an eschatological reality. Perfect jus- 
tice, which is identical with perfect love, cannot be realized in any 

Religion and Society 155 

historical society; it is, however, held out for us as the law of life in 
the "new heaven and new earth" for which all history is destined. "On 
that day," in the Kingdom of Heaven, justice and love will be finally 
reconciled for all creation, as they already are in God. 

We shall, in a subsequent chapter, discuss the eschatological vision, 
the vision of "last things," that is so crucial to Hebraic religion. For 
our present purpose, it is enough to recognize that the Kingdom of 
Heaven is at once a promise, a demand and a norm. It is a promise 
in that it points to the fulfilment of life in a community of love in free 
obedience to the kingship of God. It is a norm in that it shows what 
life ought to be like if it is to fulfil the intent of the Creator and the 
vocation of man. But beyond promise and norm, the Kingdom of 
God is a demand, for by confronting us with the picture of life as it 
should be, it demands that we never rest until we have brought actual 
life into conformity with the divine intent. In the Kingdom of God 
we see the culmination of all things promised in faith, but in the King- 
dom of God we also have an ever-present possibility and a never-fail- 
ing reality. Wherever there is self-giving love, wherever there is true 
community, wherever men recognize, though perhaps only implicitly, 
the kingship of God and the divine imperative, there the Kingdom of 
Heaven is among us, there it is a reality in this world, in this our life. 
But it is a reality that drives men on to its ever-greater realization. 
"The agape of the Kingdom of God," Reinhold Niebuhr tells us, "is a 
resource for infinite developments toward a more perfect brotherhood 
in history." 16 "Whatever God designs for the world-to-come," the 
rabbis teach, "he does by anticipation through the righteous in the 
present world." 17 The power of the Kingdom is the dynamic of the 
struggle for social justice; it is a dynamic born out of the tension be- 
tween the always unsatisfactory actuality of history and the trans- 
historical perfection of the Kingdom of God. 

This eschatological perspective is capable of generating a vital drive 
for social action while avoiding the pitfalls to which secular reform 
movements are always exposed. Secular reform movements, even 
when their intentions are of the best, are only too often hampered and 
confused by their utopianism, their lack of realism, their tendency to 
absolutize their particular program or blueprint. Only a religious 
realism informed with the power of the Kingdom and prepared to 

156 Judaism and Modern Man 

subject everything every idea, institution and program, including 
one's own to the criticism of divine judgment, in terms of the King- 
dom, can make it possible for us to fight for a higher measure of jus- 
tice in society without identifying our particular judgment with the 
absolute. Only a religious realism which understands that the King- 
dom of God is ever present, and yet ever to be striven for, can generate 
a dynamic that will give us no rest in any achievement, no matter how 
high, so long as a higher level of achievement is possible which it 
always is. 

The power of the divine imperative to social justice reveals itself 
not only in the sacrificial idealism of those for whom the love of God 
implies love of their fellow-men. It operates also through the force 
of human self-interest. In the intricate dialectic of history, idealism 
and self-interest are so completely fused that only God, who is a 
searcher of hearts, can tell them apart. 

Was it the economic self-interest of the industrial classes of the 
North or the devoted idealism of the Abolitionists that led to the eradi- 
cation of Negro slavery in the United States? How much did each 
contribute to the final outcome and what part did each play in the 
motivations of the millions who had their share in the great struggle? 

Or let us take an example from the experience of our own time. 
Not so long ago in this country, before trade unionism became a force 
to be reckoned with, industry was the preserve of what can only be 
described as absolutism. Management exercised a power in plant and 
factory that was virtually unlimited. Undoubtedly, most industrial 
magnates felt with George F. Baer 18 that the vast power they held over 
their fellow-men was a trust from God, vested in them because of 
their superior character and abilities, and employed not selfishly but 
in the best interests of all. We today can see what a large element of 
ideology and self-deception went into this idealism; we can see that 
what the industrial magnates were actually doing in the fulfilment of 
their "trust" was to enrich themselves, inflate their pride and enlarge 
their already exorbitant powers over their armies of workers. The 
gross injustice of it all was not visible to them, and they repelled with 
self-righteous indignation any question as to their motives or any chal- 
lenge to their autocracy. 

Religion and Society 157 

What was not visible to them was only too obvious to their victims. 
The workers, for whom the existing distribution of power meant pov- 
erty, insecurity and oppression, quickly saw the injustice and rose in 
rebellion. Painfully, at the cost of great effort and sacrifice, they 
formed their unions and were eventually able to confront management 
with a collective power that could not be brushed aside. Gradually, 
an element of democracy was introduced into industry; gradually, the 
absolutism of management was mitigated by the constitutional devices 
of unionism and collective bargaining. Gradually, a higher level of 
justice in terms of freedom, security and the material benefits of mod- 
ern industry was attained. Few achievements in social justice are so 
impressive as what the trade unions have accomplished in Britain and 
America in the course of the past century. If, indeed, the industrial 
magnates were right in assuming that they had a commission from 
Heaven for the administration of industry, it has required a rather 
considerable effort on the part of labor to persuade them to exercise 
it with discretion. 

Why was it that the workers were able to see so clearly the injustice 
to which so many of the most eminent men were blind? Is it not be- 
cause the self-interest that closed the eyes and dulled the sense of 
justice of the one party had quite the opposite effect on the other? The 
victims of injustice are always more ready to perceive it than those 
who benefit by it. We need not believe that the workers, because they 
were so keenly aware of the injustice in the industrial relations of the 
time, were necessarily better men or gifted with a higher native sensi- 
tivity than the employers, who honestly could see nothing so very 
wrong. On the whole, they were about the same well-meaning, re- 
spectable men, not without a touch of self-righteousness, men who 
wanted to be fair and certainly did not mean to do wrong if they could 
help it. But the workers had the inestimable advantage of being the 
victims of injustice rather than the perpetrators of it. Their eyes were 
opened and their sense of justice sharpened by their self-interest, the 
very same self-interest which had such morally devastating effects on 
their employers. 

In this situation, which is so typical of the dialectic of social reform, 
self-interest served as the chief instrument of social justice. Yet not 
entirely, not finally. The oppressed workers would never have been 

158 Judaism and Modern Man 

able to take the first steps in organization, which often entailed great 
hardship and suffering, had they not been stirred by a handful of ideal- 
ists, men and women for whom the organization of labor was a great 
cause which they were ready to serve in sacrificial devotion. But can 
we separate the idealists and the self-seekers so completely, so cer- 
tainly? Was there not a ferment of idealism in every worker who went 
out on strike, and was there not an element of self-seeking, hidden 
from himself though it may have been, in the idealist whose leadership 
in the cause served so frequently to inflate his pride and extend his 
power over his fellow-men? The compounding of motives is beyond 
the power of man to descry. But this we do know, the divine will to 
social justice enforces itself through all the involvements and ambi- 
guities of human nature and history. 


The passion for social justice runs through Judaism from the earliest 
writings to the present day. No modern attack upon economic ex- 
ploitation can equal in earnestness and power the denunciations of 
the prophets against those who "grind down the faces of the poor." 19 
No modern warning against the evils of authoritarianism is so arrest- 
ing as the words of Samuel rebuking the people of Israel for desiring 
to subject themselves to the yoke of kingship.' 20 And the numerous 
rabbinical provisions protecting workers against their employers and 
helping to mitigate the lot of the poor, the friendless and the under- 
privileged are a sign that the original biblical impetus was not lost in 
later Judaism. 

The prophetic passion for social justice and the Scriptural emphasis 
upon the utter reality of this life of ours have had a powerful influence 
on our entire culture. Perhaps no aspect of biblical religion is more 
striking, particularly in contrast to the otherworldly quietism of Ori- 
ental spirituality, than its restless discontent with existing conditions 
and the perpetual striving for something better indeed, for perfec- 
tion. The social dynamic of Hebraic religion is certainly a dynamic of 
social progress. The serious concern with social justice, so charac- 
teristic of the West, is one of its fruits. The social activism of Western 
life and its sense of the reality of history constitute another. 21 

All the more strange, therefore, is it that the actual influence of re- 

Religion and Society 159 

ligion in our culture, of religion not in its normative ideal but in its 
institutional actuality, has generally been exerted not so much to 
advance the cause of social justice as to hamper and retard it. Neither 
the Synagogue nor the Church can deny its share of responsibility 
for the fateful schism between religion and the movement for radical 
social reform that has come to be known as socialism. 22 In both Juda- 
ism and Christianity, the original prophetic-activist spirit at the heart 
of Hebraic religion came, in the course of events, to be vitiated by 
two factors of broad historical significance. On the one hand, institu- 
tional religion became more and more identified with the upper classes 
of society. On the other, the religious spirit became increasingly per- 
meated with a life-denying otherworldliness stemming from sources 
far removed from Hebraic spirituality. 

Throughout the Middle Ages and well into modern times, the 
Church and Synagogue, as social institutions, formed part of the privi- 
leged order in their respective communities. The alliance of "the altar 
and the throne" in Christian Europe is too notorious to require empha- 
sis. The Jewish community was, of course, in a rather different posi- 
tion. It was itself outside the bounds of official society and at the very 
best maintained a precarious existence in the shadow of persecution, 
fear and insecurity. But within the Jewish community, the usual class 
distinctions and class antagonisms were rampant. The poor murmured 
against the power of the rich, which extended even to the Synagogue, 
for the Synagogue was only too often in the grip of the parnasim, the 
communal oligarchs. In its own way and under its own conditions, 
the Synagogue and the Church each alike threw its weight on the side 
of the status quo, sanctifying existing forms of economic exploitation 
and political privilege. The bitterness and inchoate resentment of the 
lower classes found expression on more than one occasion in open 
revolt, in sectarian movements and, with the rise of modern socialism, 
in an outright secession from the religious community. 

The conservative, even reactionary attitude of established religion, 
reflecting its privileged status as a social institution within the com- 
munity, was reinforced by the growing prevalence of an alien indi- 
vidualistic otherworldliness, which devaluated actual life and preached 
an ascetic indifference to worldly affairs. Within Judaism, which rab- 
binic tradition held close to everyday life, this tendency could not 

160 Judaism and Modern Man 

reach the extremes it sometimes did in Christian Europe, but no one 
at all acquainted with the ascetic aspect of medieval Jewish piety will 
care to deny that it was operative in the Jewish community as well. 

In western Christendom, the Catholic Church for a time tried to 
maintain a middle course, which enabled it to find a place for ascetic 
otherworldliness while itself intervening actively to preserve and sus- 
tain the medieval social order. Protestantism, when it arose, upset the 
balance and strove to recapture the spirit of Hebraic-prophetic acti- 
vism. But it was largely frustrated by its social and political involve- 
ments. Lutheranism, allied by corporate self-interest to the German 
princes, developed the famous doctrine of "orders," which was inter- 
preted as entirely removing public life from the possibility of im- 
provement and the operations of the moral law. Religion became an 
affair exclusively of private life, with no relevance to the larger con- 
cerns of society. Calvinism and the radical sects, particularly the latter, 
did manage to retain a good deal of the social dynamic of Hebraic 
religion and even developed significant theologies of social action. 
The ferment of Puritan radicalism in England and New England, the 
important contribution of British Protestantism to humanitarian re- 
form and to the early labor-socialist movement, bear witness to this 
vital impulse. It is surely no accident that in Britain the schism be- 
tween socialism and religion never developed very far, certainly never 
reached the point of irreconcilable hostility so characteristic of the 

In the Jewish community, the same general forces were at work, 
though the historical pattern was naturally very different. Hardly a 
trace of the radical activism of the prophets was to be discerned in 
conventional religious life. Legalistic conformism and otherworldly 
quietism met and sustained each other. Forces of innovation and dis- 
content could find only peripheral expression, further and further re- 
moved from the center of official religion. Amorphous lower-class 
revolt is to be detected in the various messianic movements and em- 
phatically in Hasidism, while bourgeois reform interests came to the 
fore in the Haskalah (Enlightenment). But none of these impulses 
could find either understanding or adequate room for development 
within the established religious order. The breach became open and 
irreparable when labor socialism appeared on the scene in the latter 

Religion and Society 161 

half of the nineteenth century. For Judaism, far more than for Chris- 
tendom, socialism came into being as a deep schism within the reli- 
gious community, which had hitherto been virtually identical with 
Jewish society. The Synagogue, no more than the Church, proved 
able to find place for the new social forces that were coming to the 
fore and claiming their rights in community life. 

On the whole, therefore, it may be said that established religion 
entered the modern world as a socially conservative force, systemati- 
cally intervening on the side of the rich and powerful, whose self- 
seeking impulses it did not scruple to justify, while counseling the 
masses to patient resignation and submission to injustice. Neither its 
many charitable works nor its genuine spirit of dedication to what 
it conceived to be the true welfare of mankind can change this omi- 
nous fact. 

But socialism, too, bears its heavy measure of historical responsi- 

The roots of socialism go deeper than its own philosophy would 
care to admit. Fundamentally, socialism is predicated on two con- 
victions: on the conviction that life and history have meaning in terms 
of some fulfilment toward which they are heading, and on the con- 
viction that men can change their social conditions for the better and 
are in duty bound to strive to do so. Both of these convictions are 
rooted in the Hebraic spirit in the Hebraic passion for social justice 
and, even more profoundly, in the prophetic vision of the Kingdoir 
of Heaven not simply as the negation but as the transfiguration and 
fulfilment of the actual world. The religious origins of the socialist 
idea are plain. 

Nevertheless, for reasons we have noted, the socialist movement, 
outside of Britain, arose in modern times as an antireligious move- 
ment. On the social and political level, it was uncompromisingly anti- 
clerical, waging bitter war against Church and Synagogue as bulwarks 
of reaction. On the spiritual level, it proclaimed a militant, atheistic 
materialism and thus came forward as the protagonist of a rival total 
philosophy claiming the allegiance of Western man. For socialism, 
as Dostoevski saw so clearly (The Brothers Karamazov), was "not 
merely the labor question." It was "before all things the atheistic 

162 Judaism and Modern Man 

question, the question of the form taken by atheism today, the question 
of the Tower of Babel, built without God, not to mount to heaven 
from earth but to set up heaven upon earth." On both levels, the social 
and the spiritual, socialism was the heir and continuator of the 
eighteenth-century bourgeois Enlightenment. 

Socialism took the prophetic passion for social justice and the pro- 
phetic insight into the meaning of history and secularized them. It 
thereby stultified and corrupted their meaning. Driven on by the logic 
of secularism, which sees man as supreme and self-sufficient in the 
universe and believes him capable of fulfilling himself entirely in hu- 
man terms, socialism placed the fulfilment of history within history 
itself and thus opened the door to a self-destructive utopianism. Its 
conception of human betterment exclusively in terms of man's mate- 
rial life in society betrayed it into a disastrous worship of industrial- 
ism and an exaltation of collectivism as an end in itself. Its secularist 
logic also drove it into an idolatrous moral absolutism, in which the 
interests of the "cause" (and only too often of the Party) became the 
final law of life, justifying everything. The other side of an old idola- 
trous moral absolutism is moral nihilism, and although socialism did 
affirm a set of humane values as the goal of its endeavors values, 
incidentally, taken over from the Judeo-Christian tradition these 
values were left ungrounded in anything really ultimate and therefore 
could not withstand the attrition of self-interest and the human lust 
for power. 

Militant secularism very early became the dominant motif in modern 
socialism. In part, this was a justified protest against the failure of in- 
stitutional religion and a judgment upon it, but in part only. Primarily, 
it was the unbridled Prometheanism that has brought modern man to 
the verge of destruction. This doctrinaire secularism not only robbed 
socialism of its legitimate source of moral power; it not only confused 
its insights and its understanding of the realities of human life; most 
fateful of all, it converted socialism into an idolatrous pseudo-religion 
and thus drove it into suicidal opposition to its own true source of 

Thus arose the schism between socialism and religion in the modern 
world. The schism bears testimony to the fact that each, in a different 

Religion and Society 163 

way, has proved unworthy of its own best lights and has allowed itself 
to be perverted from its true course. It is a schism that has done much 
lasting damage to both sides, to socialism even more than to religion, 
but most of all, perhaps, to the internal stability of our culture, to its 
best hopes and aspirations. 

Are there any prospects of an early end to this catastrophic schism? 
There are such signs. The time we are living in appears to mark the 
transition from the modern age, in which the schism arose and spread, 
to a new, "post-modern" period, in which a reconciliation between 
socialism and religion may prove possible. An entire historical epoch 
seems to be coming to a close with our generation. 

The secularist culture of the past three centuries is in collapse. Per- 
haps most irreparably damaged is the materialistic socialism that was 
an integral part of this culture. Its metaphysical foundations are utter- 
ly gone : its stubborn denial of the spiritual dimension of human life, its 
uncritical faith in history as salvation, its crude economism and its 
fetishism of a thing-centered culture. Its utopianism has proved a 
snare and a delusion. Its moral principles have shown themselves in- 
capable not only of sustaining the ends it affirms, but even more sig- 
nificantly, incapable of maintaining control over the means employed 
to achieve these ends. Its mystical exaltation of collectivism has gen- 
erated a powerful drive toward a compulsive totalitarianism, com- 
pletely engulfing and obliterating the individual human being. 23 

Within the movement that has its origins in Marxist socialism, there 
has taken place, in recent decades, a fundamental differentiation. 
Communism, relentlessly pursuing the logic of Prometheanism, has 
ended up as an ideology of total enslavement. The democratic ele- 
ments in the socialist movement, on the other hand, aghast at this out- 
come, have shrunk back from the ultimate consequences of their tra- 
ditional philosophy and are striving to reaffirm their humanistic, liber- 
tarian emphasis at the price, however, of abandoning their meta- 
physical pretensions. With them, socialism is no longer a rival religion; 
it has been reduced to the rather more modest proportions of a pro- 
gram of social and economic reconstruction. On some socialists, in- 
deed, the experience of the past generation has had an even more pro- 
found effect: it has led them, in the words of Ignazio Silone, to "go 
beyond [their] bourgeois limitations" and attempt to regain for so- 

164 Judaism and Modern Man 

cialism its religious grounding. 24 In any case, virtually all agree that 
the traditional antireligious bias of modern socialism has proved a 
disaster and must be eradicated if socialism is to have any future. 

On the other side, there are new and significant trends in the world 
of religion. Under the impact of the crisis of our time, the historic 
alliance between institutional religion and the forces of reaction has 
been partly or wholly broken. There is a wide ferment under way in 
most religious bodies, Christian as well as Jewish, in favor of extensive 
social and economic reforms. Organized religion, moreover, has 
proved one of the most potent forces in the struggle against totalitar- 
ianism, against Nazi totalitarianism yesterday and against Soviet to- 
talitarianism today. Whatever may be the factors involved, and no 
doubt a politic adaptation to new social realities is compounded with 
a more fundamental reorientation, it can no longer be said of most 
religious bodies at least not in the democratic countries of western 
Europe and America nor, in the totalitarian countries, of the churches 
in opposition to the regime that they are the bulwarks of political 
and economic oppression. When the Vatican denounces capitalism as 
"atheistic in its structure; gold is its god," when the World Council 
of Churches categorically condemns laissez-faire capitalism and com- 
munism and calls for a "third way," when rabbinical bodies reiterate 
almost as a matter of course their approval of programs that involve 
the most far-reaching reforms, 25 it is obvious that the old formulas 
will no longer do. "The ideas we [socialists] had about religion and 
clericalism fifty years ago cannot be maintained any longer today . . . 
Let us admit times have changed."-^ These words of Paul Henri 
Spaak, former Prime Minister of Belgium and an authoritative leader 
of Continental socialism, sum up in impressive fashion the change that 
has taken place. 

Whatever the immediate future may bring, it seems clear that there 
is now emerging for the first time in two centuries a real basis for 
the reconciliation of the ancient foes, a real possibility for the end of 
a schism that has wrought such havoc in our civilization. 

In order to preserve itself as a humane and democratic force in the 
present-day world, socialism has found it necessary to abandon its 
metaphysical pretensions. But in abandoning its metaphysics, it has 

Religion and Society 165 

had to abandon also the prophetic urgency of its call and its apocalyp- 
tic appeal. It can no longer summon the masses to the "final conflict" 
and it can no longer pretend that the program it fights for will usher 
in the Perfect Society. It has lost its revolutionary spiritual dynamic. 
Basically, this loss is all to the good, for the only way in which a 
social movement can of itself develop a revolutionary spiritual dy- 
namic is by absolutizing itself as an idolatrous cult, and the conse- 
quences of that we have already seen. Yet men cannot engage in any 
great and enduring work, involving frustration, hardship and sacrifice, 
without some sense of vocation and urgency, without some conviction 
in the lasting significance of what they are doing and without some 
promise of fulfilment beyond their own limited powers. The social 
movements of our day, disoriented and deflated by the horrors of the 
past three decades, do not possess such an ultimate standpoint and 
are therefore in constant danger of degenerating into visionless op- 
portunism and futility. They can be saved only by being related to 
an ultimate concern beyond themselves, a concern that is truly ulti- 
mate and not simply the premature absolutization of something merely 
partial and transitory. The delusive Utopian eschatology of Marxism, 
which believes it can bring history to a stop and establish perfection 
in this world, socialism is at last beginning to throw off. It now re- 
mains as the task of our time to reintegrate the socialist idea, the idea 
of militant action for social justice, into the transcendent eschatology 
of Hebraic religion. In the eschatological passion of the prophets, the 
social radicalism of our time can find the power and the vision to work 
within history for the fulfilment of history, while realizing that it is 
not in the time of man or by his hand that the work can be completed. 


1. See, e.g., the formulations of the Noahite (Adamite) Laws in Midrash 
r. Gen. 16.9 and 34:8; B. Sanh. 56a and Tos. Ab. Z. 8 (9). 4-7 (ed. Zuck- 
ermandel, pp. 473f.), where justice is placed first. 

2. See note 10, chapter 3, above. 
3 Pascal, Peniees, No. 294. 

4. "You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment; thou shalt not respect 

166 Judaism and Modern Man 

the person of the poor nor favor the person of the mighty; but in right- 
eousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor." Lev. 19:15. Exhortations to 
justice and "righteousness" hi judgment form a dominant theme in rab- 
binic tradition. 

5. G. F. Moore, Judaism (Harvard University: Cambridge, Mass., 1927), 
II, 156. 

6. "Suppose that the necessities of the human race continue as at present, 
yet the mind is so enlarged and so replete with friendship and generosity 
that every man has the utmost tenderness for every other man and feels, 
no more concern for his own interest than for that of his fellows; it seems 
indeed that the use of justice would in that case be suspended by an ex- 
tensive benevolence. . . .Why raise landmarks between my neighbor's 
field and mine when my heart has made no division between our interests 
but shares his joys and sorrows with the same force and vivacity as if 
originally my own? Every man, upon this assumption, being a second 
self to another, would trust all his interests to the discretion of every man, 
without jealousy, without partition, without distinction. And the whole 
human race would form only one family." David Hume, A n Inquiry Con- 
cerning the Principles of Morals, III, Part I. 

7. "He who says what is mine is mine and what is thine is thine is the 
average type; some say it is the character of Sodom ... He who says 
what is mine is thine and what is thine is thine is a saint. . . ." M. 
Abot 5.13. 

8. "Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: Upon three things the world 
stands, on truth, on judgment and on peace." M. Abot 1.18. 

9. J. Sanh. 1:1, 18b. A parallel passage, replacing "strict truth" by 
"charity," appears in Tosefta Sanh. 1.3. 

10. Cf. Reinhold Niebuhr, An Interpretation of Christian Ethics (Harper; 
New York, 1935), p. 140. 

11. "Any justice which is only justice soon degenerates into something 
less than justice. It must be saved by something which is more than jus- 
tice." Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society (Scribner's: 
New York, 1934), p. 258. 

12. Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents (Hogarth: London, 
1930), page 34 note. 

13. "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof." Ps. 24:1. 

14. Abot de R. N., version B, chap. xxi. 

15. It follows, therefore, that there may well be several programs along 
different lines all aiming at the same general goal. It is not without signifi- 
cance that the advocates of a "controlled" capitalism and the champions 
of a limited or "democratic" socialism have been steadily converging, so 
that it is frequently difficult to tell them apart. Once the claim to abso- 
luteness is abandoned, sweeping designations such as "capitalism" and 
"socialism" lose much of their meaning. 

Religion and Society 167 

16. Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man (Scribner's: New 
York, 1943), II, 85. 

17. Midrash r. Gen. 77.1 (ed. Theodor-Albeck, p. 909). 

18. Mr. Baer was spokesman for the anthracite operators in the great 
strike of 1903. He is best remembered for his pronouncement: "The 
rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for, 
not by the labor agitators but by the Christian men to whom God, in his 
infinite wisdom, has given control of the property interests of the country." 
Allen Nevins and H. S. Commanger, History of the United States (Pocket 
Books: New York, 1943), p. 409. 

19. See, e.g., Isa. 1:15 ff., 5:8; Amos 2:6-7; Mic. 2:1-2. See also Moore, 
Judaism, II, 156. 

20. I Sam. 8:4 

21. "It is Jewish-Christian futurism which opened the future as the dy- 
namic horizon of all modern striving and thinking." Karl Lowith, Meaning 
in History (University of Chicago: Chicago, 1949), p. 111. 

22. By "socialism" in this general sense is meant the conviction that the 
welfare of the masses of the people is a prime social responsibility and 
that in modern society this responsibility is not likely to be met unless 
the masses of the people the wage-workers, the farmers and other 
"functional" groups themselves organize to act politically on behalf 
of their interests and the interests of the community. 

23. Cf. Will Herbcrg, "The Crisis of Socialism," Jewish Frontier, Vol. 
XI (September, 1944), No 9 

24. Ignazio Silone, And He Hid Himself (Harper: New York, 1946), 
"To the Reader," pp. v, vi. 

25. A convenient summary of the authoritative Catholic position may be 
found in Benjamin L. Masse, "Pope Pius XII on Capitalism" and "Pope 
Pius XII Demands Economic Reform," America, Vol. 84 (December 2, 
1950), No. 9 and No. 13 (December 30, 1950), respectively. The Protes- 
tant position is set forth in the statement, "The Church and the Disorders 
of Society," accepted by the Amsterdam Assembly of the World Council 
of Churches in 1948. For the Jewish position, reports of the conferences 
of rabbinical associations of this country may be consulted. 

26. Reported from Brussels in the Commonweal, June 18, 1948. 



Every historical period has its characteristic problem which sets 
its mark on all phases of social life and endows all social issues with 
their measure of relevance. At one time, it was the problem of re- 
ligious unity; at another, the problem of nationalism; at still another, 
the "labor" problem. These older problems still persist, of course, 
but they are no longer central. The central problem of today, as far 
as our social life is concerned, is the problem of totalitarianism the 
problem of the relations between society, state and the individual. 

What Judaism has to say on this problem is of basic importance, 
but it cannot be presented by trying to piece together a picture of a 
"true society" from the remarks of the rabbis or the laws and customs 
of ancient Israel, however illuminating these may prove in the proper 
context. The starting-point of authentic Jewish thinking on social 
and political questions is its underlying conception of the fundamental 
nature of man in his relation to society. Judaism, we have repeatedly 
noted, sees man as inescapably dual, the two sides of his nature in- 
volving and implying each other in all aspects of life. On the one 
hand, man is made "in the image of God"; he is a creature endowed 
with spirit, with the capacity to transcend nature and self through 
reason, imagination and moral freedom. But on the other hand, he 
is sinful, egocentric, perpetually driven to deny his creatureliness and 
make himself the center of his universe. His efforts at self-transcen- 
dence are thus limited and corrupted by his self-centeredness, by his 
pride and inordinate pretensions, which on the social level are mani- 
fested in the lust for power. As a creature endowed with freedom of 
spirit, man is capable of rising above immediate impulse and narrow 
self-interest to affirm the ideals of truth and justice. Yet no sooner 
does he achieve a standpoint outside of himself than he is tempted to 
convert his idealism into an instrument of his pride and self-aggran- 
dizement. Between these two poles between his self-transcending 
potentialities, on the one hand, and his sinful egocentricity, on the 


Religion and Society 169 

other man lives out his life and pursues his enterprises. They are 
the focal points for any really profound understanding of the prob- 
lems of human existence. 

It is in terms of this duality that we can formulate the paradox 
that pervades social ethics in all its aspects. As a child of God formed 
in his image, every human person is of infinite worth, an end in him- 
self, never merely a means to some external end. Of course, this 
dignity which he possesses is not his own by "natural right"; it comes 
to him as an endowment from God and has no meaning or validity 
against God. But it does have meaning in relation to human society, 
and in that connection it implies freedom and equality both in a 
radical sense. Because man is, within the order of creation, an end 
in himself, he possesses the freedom of self-determination and moral 
responsibility. On the same ground, we must affirm the essential 
equality of all men, not in any empirical respect for in every em- 
pirical respect men are very far from equal but as the children of 
a common Father. Liberty, fraternity and equality are not the mere 
watchwords of revolution; properly understood, they describe what 
belongs to every man by virtue of his unique relationship to God Let 
us remember that, in the tremendous formula of the Mishnah, it is 
every individual person for whose sake the world was created. 1 

But this man for whose sake the world was created, and who is 
an end in himself within the order of creation, is also sinful man. 
Freedom and equality are his by divine endowment and these he is 
ready to claim as his right. But in his sinful egocentricity, he is only 
too prone to overlook that, if it was for his sake that the world was 
created, it was also and equally for the sake of his neighbor. In the 
infinite pretensions of his pride, he strives to elevate himself above 
his fellows and to subject them to his will. He sees himself as alone 
the true end, and all others as somehow instruments or means to his 
purpose. He strives to exploit every institutional advantage that may 
fall to him by virtue of his position in society in order to increase his 
power and to inflate his self-esteem. And all this he does with good 
conscience, for it is not himself he feels he is serving but some larger 
cause or goal beyond the self. The capacity of the human mind to 
deceive itself through ideology and rationalization is in itself startling 
evidence of the power of sin. 

170 Judaism and Modern Man 

Man, who is entitled to and claims for himself the rights of per- 
sonality that come to him from God, is driven by sinful egocentricity 
to deny them to others. In the light of this paradox, it can be seen 
why the traditional Jewish attitude to the political state is so radically 

On the one hand, all earthly government is branded as sinful be- 
cause it is usurpation only God is the rightful king; and because no 
man has the right to coerce or dominate another that is God's pre- 
rogative. Wellhausen has aptly described the Israelite ideal as a "com- 
monwealth without [earthly] authorities" 2 in which all men are subject 
directly to God and his law. When the elders came to Ramah to de- 
mand that Samuel set up a king to rule over them "like all the nations," 
what they were really doing, Scripture makes clear, was rejecting God 
"from being king over them." 3 Earlier, Gideon had refused to take 
the kingship offered to him with the proud words: "I will not rule 
over you; neither shall my son rule over you. The Lord shall rule 
over you" (Judg. 8:23). This radical libertarian attitude remains a 
vital force in the rabbinic tradition, despite all vicissitudes of politics 
and history. 4 "Unto me are the children of Israel slaves (Lev. 25: 
55)," the Talmud has God as proclaiming, "not slaves unto slaves":* 
men are unconditionally subject to God but not to other men. Nor- 
matively, all men are free; only God is above them. Coercion of man 
by man is thus inherently sinful, for it implies the exaltation of one 
man over another in flagrant defiance of the divine law that holds all 
men equal and equally subject to God. 

Yet, on the other hand, earthly government, with all that it in- 
volves, is justified as necessary for the peace and security of society 
and the establishment of justice among men. "Pray for the peace of 
the government," we are enjoined in the Mishnah, "for were it not 
for the fear of that, we should have swallowed each other alive." 6 
Coercive authority must be applied at some point if society and its 
institutions are not to be destroyed by the disruptive forces of indi- 
vidual and collective self-interest. The most elementary form of social 
organization, the barest rudiments of social justice, are impossible 
without the exertion of power. "In each pursuit and in each institu- 
tion," the anthropologist Malinowski points out, "the element of 
authority and its hierarchical delegation are indispensable. Discipline 

Religion and Society 171 

and some means of enforcing this submission are essential to au- 
thority." 7 Justice is impotent and order impossible without the sword 
of the state ever ready to be drawn in their defense. 

Earthly government is necessary for the preservation of society 
and the maintenance of justice, yet it is itself involved in sin and evil. 
This radical ambiguity reflects the paradox that, from the. standpoint 
of Hebraic religion, earthly government is at once the consequence 
of human sinfulness, a protection against it and a vehicle which it 
employs. It is the consequence of human sinfulness because, norma- 
tively, men should live in fraternal and uncoerced harmony and their 
failure to do so, which makes government necessary, is the result of 
their sinful egocentricity. It is a vehicle of human sinfulness, because 
the powers and agencies of government only too often become instru- 
ments of self-aggrandizement on the part of those who wield them. 
It is a protection against human sinfulness because the might of the 
state is always to some degree a power against evildoers and a curb 
upon the lusts and aggressions of men. That an institution so dubious 
in its nature can serve as a protection against evil that we must do 
violence to maintain order, engage in repressions to secure freedom 
and resort to coercion to establish justice is a paradox involved in 
the final problem of ends and means. 

In view of the ambivalence of all earthly government, only that state 
can be said to meet the test which is somehow able to sustain society 
and uphold justice by the use of its power and authority and yet is 
able also to guard against the excesses of arbitrary, uncontrolled power 
in its own operations. To put it another way, with a somewhat 
different emphasis, political and social institutions have a double func- 
tion: the positive function of providing the best possible conditions 
for the free development of each individual person in community; 
and the negative function of setting up institutional curbs upon the 
human lust for power, which can convert even the most necessary 
institution into an instrument of self-aggrandizement. But this is es- 
sentially the democratic state. Democracy takes into account both 
sides of the human ambivalance. Man, in his idealism and imagina- 
tion, possesses the capacity to transcend self and aspire to impartial 
justice: this makes social order possible. But man's capacity for self- 
transcendence is necessarily limited by the irreducible egotism of his 

172 Judaism and Modern Man 

nature: this makes democracy necessary. Both aspects are indispen- 
sable to any tenable theory of democracy: one as a protection against 
the pessimistic cynicism that leads to tyranny; the other, against the 
optimistic utopianism that leads to anarchy. 

Particularly since Rousseau, belief in democracy has been associated 
with confidence in the "natural goodness" of man. 8 Human beings, 
we are assured, are by nature rational and virtuous but they have been 
corrupted by evil institutions, by the machinations of ambitious rulers, 
cunning priests and greedy exploiters. Free them of these, educate, 
enlighten and emancipate them, and their natural reason and virtue 
will reassert themselves. Given the opportunity, men will show that 
they can govern themselves in peace and wisdom. Democracy be- 
comes at once the medium of emancipation and the final state of social 

In one form or another, this naive optimism has permeated the 
democratic philosophy of the past two centuries. "Liberal" versions 
of Judaism and Christianity, Rousseau's romanticism, the rationalism 
of the Encyclopedists and utilitarians, Dewey's gospel of social in- 
telligence, even the sophisticated millernarianism of the Marxists, are, 
at bottom, variant forms of an attitude that cannot be character- 
ized as anything but a deceitful illusion. It is a deceitful illusion 
because it is manifestly untrue to the facts of life, because it fails to 
answer the critical question of how evil institutions could possibly 
have arisen if man is really good, but above all because it tends to 
betray us into a false security in a situation where only the utmost 
vigilance can promise safety. Democracy becomes in this view some- 
thing very easy to achieve and, once achieved, still easier to maintain. 
But by the same token, democracy becomes hardly necessary. 
Either anarchy or absolutism could be defended with equal plausibility. 
If the evil in man manifesting itself in social conflict is merely peri- 
pheral and accidental, merely the consequence of ignorance, obsolete 
institutions or "cultural lag," then one may reasonably look forward 
in the not too distant future to a state of uncoerced harmony in which 
"all need for force wifl vanish since people will grow accustomed to 
observing the elementary conditions of social existence without force 

Religion and Society 173 

and without subjection." 9 Indeed, if democracy depends on the virtue 
of the "common man" for its realization and justification, then it is 
hardly possible as long as men continue in their benighted state and 
hardly necessary once they are truly enlightened. 10 Anarchism, not 
democracy, is the logic of the doctrine of the natural goodness of man. 

But the same logic may be turned to very different purposes, to 
validate absolutism, whether of a despot or a majority. That natural 
goodness which is supposed to emerge once man sloughs off the en- 
cumbrance of ignorance and vicious institutions may very well permit 
the enlightened ruler to be the true guardian of the welfare and in- 
terests of his subjects. Hobbes, whose pessimism had curious lapses, 
used this alleged identity of interest to justify absolute monarchy. 11 
Rousseau used it to justify the despotism of the "general will," 12 and 
more than one apologist has used it to justify the Stalinist regime in 
Russia. 13 Their line of argument cannot be effectively met, at least 
not on the theoretical plane, so long as perfect rationality and good- 
ness are held to characterize men and to be capable of realization or 
very close approximation in actual life. 

Historically, as the French and Russian revolutions bear witness, 
the optimistic conception of human nature is closely associated with 
revolutionary terror and despotism. Robespierre and Lenin were both 
confirmed believers in the natural goodness of man. Each looked upon 
his revolutionary Utopia as no more than an obviously reasonable, 
thoroughly practicable program bound to commend itself to all 
right-minded people. Opposition, where not the result simply of mis- 
understanding, they held to be due to incorrigible benightedness, to 
corruption by the old institutions beyond hope of repair. The only 
remedy seemed the merciless excision of the rotten, worthless flesh 
to permit the healthy growth of the newly emerging organism: revolu- 
tionary terror was obviously the proper instrument for this wholesome 
"surgical operation." In this way, the Utopian revolutionary manages 
to make his idealistic theory serve to justify his bitter resentment at 
the shattering of his dreams on the hard rock of human recalcitrance. 
Rosa Luxemburg long ago warned that the revolutionary who "enters 
the arena with naive illusions" will be driven to "resort to bloody 
revenge when disillusionment comes." 14 

174 Judaism and Modern Man 

If the notion of the natural goodness of man makes democracy 
unnecessary, the doctrine of his utter depravity makes it impossible. 
Seizing upon the profoundly true insight that the state, in one of its 
aspects, serves as a protection against evildoers, thinkers such as 
Luther and Hobbes have elaborated a political philosophy which sees 
in the secular order simply the realm of evil and assigns to the state 
the sole function of repression. 15 Terrified at the destructive possi- 
bilities of human sinfulness, they find the only hope of social security, 
the only alternative to chaos, in an ironclad regime that will keep the 
inordinate egotism of human beings in strict check. The slightest 
relaxation of absolutism, in the view of these thinkers, would throw 
society into the abyss of anarchy at the brink of which it constantly 

But fear may be as delusive as hope, and the philosophers of un- 
relieved pessimism fall into a fatal error even in terms of their own 
system. If human nature is so utterly depraved that nothing but ruth- 
less force from above can preserve society from self-destruction, what 
about the absolute ruler to whom the function of coercion is entrusted? 
He, too, is presumably human, hence totally depraved and bound to 
use his position of power to aggrandize himself at the expense of his 
subjects, thus in his turn destroying the social order. And this holds 
true whether the absolute sovereign is an individual, an aristocratic 
elite or the "people." Hobbes's strange attempt to discover a com- 
munity of interest between ruler and subjects is utterly out of line 
with his system. Luther does not seem to make even so much of an 
effort to achieve consistency. Because the doctrine of utter depravity 
denies man any capacity to transcend self, it renders not only de- 
mocracy but even society ultimately impossible. 

An adequate philosophy of the state cannot be grounded in either 
an oversimplified optimism or an oversimplified pessimism. It must 
seek its basis in a view of man more profound and many-sided, one 
that is capable of doing justice both to man's potentialities and to his 
limitations, both to his undoubted capacities for moral and intellectual 
achievement and to the inevitable deformation of his reason and will 
through inordinate self-love. There is no alternative to a recognition 
of the radical ambivalence of man's nature as posited in Hebraic 

Religion and Society 175 

The crucial point in the problem with which we are here concerned, 
the problem of man and the state, is the question of power its nature, 
utilization and control. 16 The exercise of power by some men over 
others is implied in the very existence of society; yet power possesses 
its own compulsive dynamic. Those who possess power will seek to 
preserve, enlarge and exploit it in the interests of individual and col- 
lective self-aggrandizement. This conclusion emerges directly from 
our view of human nature and is the incontrovertible testimony of all 
history and experience. How can power be utilized, as it must, to 
preserve the social order from the chaos of anarchy, and yet be pre- 
vented from running wild and falling into the tyranny of absolutism? 
This is the problem which democracy claims it alone can deal with. 

If there is any truth at all in the view we have presented, it should 
be clear that power cannot be tamed simply b> enlarging the wisdom 
or fortifying the virtue of the holders of power, for there is no wisdom 
so broad or virtue so strong that it can completely escape the corrup- 
tion of self-interest. Let us remember that the compounding of 
motives, so universal in the moral life, is particularly insidious on the 
social level. Men will do things in the name of their nation, their 
class or their party that they would shudder to do for their own ad- 
vantage. It is not merely a question of falling short of ideal standards. 
There is no atrocity on the calendar that perfectly upright men will 
not commit to advance a cause to which they have given their total 
allegiance. This evil they do with good conscience, indeed with a 
glow of self-righteousness, for it is now stripped of the odium of self- 
fishness and is sanctified by the holiness of their cause. Blinded by an 
idolatrous loyalty and deceived by the personal unselfishness of their 
conduct, they do not see that their idealism is but the service of a 
larger selfishness in which their own evil impulses find expression. 

Nowhere are motives more mixed, nowhere are ideals more deeply 
entangled with interests, than in the power situation. And nowhere 
is the blighting effect of the impurity of means more disastrous. 
"Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely," 
Lord Acton declares. 17 "Woe unto authority, for it destroys those 
who possess it," the rabbis teach. 18 Power corrupts the wielder and 

176 Judaism and Modern Man 

those upon whom it is wielded, feeding the pride and arrogance of the 
one and instilling hatred mingled with subserviency in the other. The 
lust for power easily penetrates the most idealistic cause, since all 
causes, even the most idealistic, require power for their realization in 
history. But power is not long content to remain a mere instrumen- 
tality. It has an obsessive logic of its own. Invoked to implement a 
higher purpose, it ultimately all but replaces that purpose. Power 
becomes its own end, pursued and cultivated for its own sake. The 
man who wields power, particularly unlimited power, however humane 
his impulses and idealistic his motives, falls gradually under its spell. 
Power becomes the god, the demon, he worships, at whose altar he is 
driven to sacrifice the best that is in him and in his ideals. "Love 
work, hate mastery," rabbinic tradition advises us, 10 and this advice 
reflects a profound insight into the sinful nature of man, who is not 
so made that he can wield power with safety to himself and his fellow- 

The passion for dominance, which works such havoc in human life, 
is so rampant today because everything in our culture conspires to 
encourage it. Particularly insidious has been the effect of scientific 
technology and modern industrialism, which have given man almost 
incalculable power over nature. "The most important effect of ma- 
chine production on the imaginative picture of the world," Bertrand 
Russell says, "is an immense increase in the sense of human power." 
As a result, "there arises, among those who direct affairs or are in 
touch with those who do so, a new belief in power: first, the power 
of man in his conflicts with nature, and then the power of rulers as 
against the human beings whose beliefs and aspirations they seek to 
control by scientific propaganda . . . Nature is raw material; so is that 
part of the human race which does not effectively participate in gov- 
ernment . . . This whole outlook is new ... It has already produced 
immense cataclysms and will undoubtedly produce others in the future. 
To frame a philosophy capable of coping with men intoxicated with 
the prospect of almost unlimited power and also with the apathy of 
the powerless," Russell concludes, "is the most pressing task of our 
time." 20 Such a "philosophy," however, need not be framed anew; 
it is already available in the fundamental affirmations of Hebraic re- 
ligion in the attitude of humility and mutual respect that is en- 

Religion and Society 177 

gendered by the recognition of our utter nothingness in the face of 
a transcendent God who, nevertheless, loves and cherishes us as his 
children. What is needed is to give these affirmations vital significance 
for modern life by making them relevant to the new cultural situation. 

It is hard for us to grasp the meaning of power in its full dimen- 
sions, for we are all caught up in its temptations and involvements. It 
is only too easy to ignore the inner tensions of the paradox and see 
power as something simple and unambiguous. It is only too easy to 
fall into either perfectionism or Machiavellianism. 

Perfectionism, as we have had occasion to note, holds that the 
absolute imperatives of the moral law can be literally embodied in 
conduct if only the desire is present. It sees purely ideal possibilities 
as practical courses of action. It knows nothing of the clash of irre- 
concilable interests in social life and sees in strife and injustice little 
more than the fruit of a deplorable moral ignorance. To the perfec- 
tionist to the "idealist," as he is called the problem of power is 
therefore no more than a problem of moral enlightenment, a problem 
of replacing "force and violence," which he holds to be a remnant 
of barbarism, by the "civilized methods" of reason and goodwill. The 
perfectionist has no sense whatever of the depths of evil and unreason 
in sinful man; nor has he any understanding of the tragic predicament 
in which men find themselves in the real world, where the choice that 
confronts them in action is never simply a choice between an ideal 
good and an obvious evil but always a choice among relevant possi- 
bilities, all of them to some degree infected with evil. 

At its best, perfectionism may serve as a needed protest against 
the corrupting relativities of practical life. But perfectionism has its 
less attractive side as well. Its utopianism too often degenerates into 
a fatuous optimism that expects all conflict and ill-will to disappear 
at the mere preaching of the word of love and therefore refuses self- 
righteously to countenance any "violent" resistance to evil. And when 
sad experience brings home the folly of these illusions, perfectionism 
only too easily turns into a blighting cynicism to which all courses are 
equally bad and all prospects equally hopeless. Cynicism is, after all, 
simply idealism gone sour. 

Perfectionism logically implies nonparticipation in the decisions and 

178 Judaism and Modern Man 

activities of social life, all of which involve the exercise of power in 
some fashion and to some degree. Since it abjures power as simply 
evil, it can offer no guidance to the moral perplexities of men who 
find themselves inextricably involved in power situations. 

Machiavellianism, 21 on the other hand, knows all about power and 
prides itself on its utter realism. It denies that moral standards, au- 
thoritative though they may be for private conduct, have any relevance 
to politics. The only valid criterion is success; power justifies power 
and everything necessary to attain and preseive it. Again, the real 
moral problem involved in power is ignored. 

Traditional Marxism entertains a curious two-sided attitude toward 
power, compounded of both perfectionism and Machiavellianism. Its 
"interim" ethic valid until the day when the true socialist society 
shall have been firmly and finally established is frankly Machiavel- 
lian: power is the goal, everything is justified if it contributes to the 
"seizure of power," moral scruples are mere "bourgeois prejudices." 
But, since it asserts that all conflict and strife among men are the 
result merely of economic privilege, which will be wiped out with the 
triumph of socialism, Marxism concludes that in the socialist society 
of the future, perfectionism will prevail: mutuality, goodwill and 
universal harmony will be the rule of everyday life. Ultimate utopian- 
ism thus sanctifies and sustains a provisional Machiavellianism of 
unrestrained power politics. 

Perfectionism demands that action, public as well as private, be the 
direct exemplification of ideal standards and therefore free from the 
corruptions of power. Machiavellianism denies the relevancy of such 
standards to politics and thus elevates power itself into the final good. 
Marxism's view is divided, agreeing with the one for the now and 
with the other for the hereafter. But nowhere do we find any sense 
of the complexity of the problem or any feeling for the tension gen- 
erated out of the impact of power. Indeed, for perfectionism or 
Machiavellianism or Marxism there cannot be said to be a real prob- 
lem of power at all. Their view of human life and its motivations 
is too simple to permit an understanding of the deep existential roots 
of the power drive in human life. Only the fulness of the biblical 
conception of man can provide the materials for such an under- 

Religion and Society 179 

In the biblical conception, man is a creature uneasy and anxious 
in his creatureliness. He strives to escape the limitations of his con- 
dition by denying his dependence on the transcendent and claiming 
absolute significance for himself and his enterprises, in other words, 
by trying to play the god in his own little universe. What he is really 
striving for is security, but it is a security grounded in self. The lust 
for power over others the power to subject others to one's will and 
to manipulate them as objects is so universal among men because 
in the intoxication of power one may indeed imagine oneself the god of 
his own little world and blot out, for a time, the insecurity, the anxiety, 
gnawing at his heart. But security grounded in self is, as we have seen, a 
delusion. Every effort to establish it on such a basis but intensifies the 
radical insecurity it is striving to allay. Hence power requires ever 
more power to secure it, and to this devil's game there is no end. 
Thomas Hobbes was sufficiently close to his religious tradition and 
had a sufficiently clear eye for the doings of men to appreciate this 
fact and to express it in classical form. 

For the nature of Power Che writes! is, in this point, like to 
Fame, increasing as it proceeds; or like the motion of heavy 
bodies, which the further they go, make still the more haste. . . 
So that in the first place, I put for a general inclination of all 
mankind a perpetual and restless desire for power after power, 
that ceaseth only in death. And the cause of this is not always 
that a man hopes for a more intensive delight then he has already 
attained to; or that he cannot be content with a moderate power; 
but because he cannot assure the power and means to live which 
he hath at present without the acquisition of more. 22 

The drive for power is the root sin of pride in its social dimension. 
It is inherent in all men, however much it may be modified in its mani- 
festations by social and cultural factors. Its operations pervade all 
levels of social existence in a bewildering multiplicity of forms and 
transmutations. It is at once the most fundamental reality and the 
most dangerous force with which man is confronted in his social life. 
How and to what degree may it be controlled? 

There are easy solutions, but they cannot satisfy us. Simple moral- 
ism sees no great difficulty in drawing the fangs of power by appealing 
to man's "better nature." It has no understanding of the compulsions 
of the power situation. Simple rationalism and simple naturalism hope 

180 Judaism and Modern Man 

to render power-wielding man harmless, either by enlightening him or 
by removing his unfortunate fixations and complexes. They do not see 
that the thirst for power is rooted not in ignorance or the accidental 
frustrations of life but in the very conditions of man's creaturely 
existence. Equally futile is the simple "economism" of the Marxists, 
who are confident that once economic injustice and class conflict are 
abolished, no one will any longer have any interest in abusing power. 
They, too, do not see how deeply the power drive is rooted in the 
nature of sinful man, much deeper than the superficial layers of eco- 
nomic interest, nor does it seem to occur to them that power creates 
its own dynamic and feeds on itself. 

Let us recognize that power of man over man can never be rendered 
completely innocuous. The best we can hope to do is to keep it under 
constant control, as one does with a dangerous natural force, such 
as fire or electricity except that in this case the menace is within us, 
the very ones who are to control it. Ultimately, there is only one way 
in which power can be rendered safe and that is by diffusing it so 
widely through society that it becomes possible to pit power against 
power and block abuse in one direction by checks and balances in 
another. 23 The arbitrary power of management over workers, to take 
a contemporary example, can be mitigated only by raising against it 
the organized power of labor. But the very instrument thus developed 
to check the despotism of management the trade union itself har- 
bors tendencies toward bureaucracy and authoritarianism, so that it 
ultimately becomes necessary to devise checks and balances upon the 
arbitrary power of the labor leader. 24 This process of check and 
countercheck, and further control, is one that never ends, for it is 
never safe to regard power, wherever vested, as in "good hands." 

Not even when it is in the hands of the "scientists." Because physi- 
cists are able to be objective and impartial in the laboratory, we are 
asked to believe that they can somehow elevate themselves above the 
passions and interests of men and so be safely trusted with supreme 
power. Because the psychoanalysts and anthropologists have gone 
a little way in penetrating the superficial layers of human motivation, 
we are asked to accept them as the superguardians of society. 25 But 
the physicists and psychoanalysts and anthropologists, for all the pre- 

Religion and Society 181 

tensions raised in their name, are but human beings like the rest of 
us, subject to the same pressures and temptations of the human con- 
dition. If they are to be our supreme guardians, watching over the 
holders of power in society, who, we may ask, will watch the 

No, power can never be rendered harmless by placing it in "safe" 
hands, because in matters of power no man's hands are "safe." 26 The 
only way to tame power is to limit, restrict and counterbalance every 
delegation or exercise of it in society. This is really the heart of the 
democratic idea. The result is not impotence or paralysis, as the im- 
patient advocates of authoritarianism declare, but a genuine mobiliza- 
tion of the resources of society for purposes sanctioned by broad 
agreement and effected with a minimum of coercion and regimenta- 
tion. And in the long run, it has proved itseli far tougher and more 
viable in the test of history than the superficially more efficient sys- 
tems that the authoritarian principle has been able to devise. 

Democracy, we may conclude, is predicated not on faith in man 
but on the conviction, so mercilessly inculcated by our experience of 
human nature and history, that no man is good enough or wise enough 
to be entrusted with irresponsible power over his fellow-men. 27 Under 
democracy, both rulers and masses are restrained and controlled for 
the security of the people against the rulers, on the one hand, and of 
minorities and individuals against both rulers and people, on the 
other. Democracy, in short, is the institutionalization of permanent 
resistance to human sinfulness in politics, 2 * which, as we have seen, 
manifests itself primarily in the egocentric self-assertion of power. 
So thoroughly aware is democracy at its best of the inevitable moral 
dubiousness of all government that it embodies the principle of re- 
sistance to government in the very structure of government itself. 

This conception of democracy as an institutional system for the 
control of power has immediate relevance beyond politics in the nar- 
rower sense. It is equally significant for economics. What it implies 
in this sphere is not merely economic security, however important that 
may be as a condition for the pursuit of the good life. Nor is it eco- 
nomic collectivism, however necessary some form of collectivism may 
be for the realization of freedom in the modern world. It is economic 

182 Judaism and Modern Man 

democracy, democracy in the sphere of economic life, the diffusion 
and control of economic power in the interests of freedom. It there- 
fore implies the effective participation of the members of the com- 
munity, producers and consumers alike, in the determination of the 
course, conditions and purposes of economic life. This I take to be 
the common element in all programs of economic reform in the in- 
terests of social justice. 

What I have been trying to say should not be interpreted as mean- 
ing that, in my view, Judaism is identical with democracy or that 
democracy is the only political system compatible with Jewish religion. 
Jewish religion possesses a range and relevance to human life that far 
transcends the limited problem of the political order of society. And 
since democracy as a system is conditioned by social and cultural 
factors which are not universal in history, Judaism has found it possi- 
ble to live with and give a degree of approval to many other types of 
political order on the one condition, however, that they do not at- 
tempt to deify themselves and make total claims on man. The burden 
of the preceding discussion is simply this: that the complex yet 
realistic conception of the nature of man affirmed by Hebraic religion 
provides the framework in terms of which the idea at the heart of 
democracy may best be understood and justified and its inadequacies 
criticized. 29 In this way, it offers modern man a fundamental line to 
help guide him amidst the ambiguities and perplexities of political 
existence in the chaos of contemporary history. It does not, however, 
"solve" the political problem by constructing a blueprint of some ideal 
system in which the tensions and paradoxes of political life will be 
eliminated. These tensions and paradoxes still remain. Earthly gov- 
ernment still remains a kind of usurpation of the divine prerogative, 
even though it may be necessary for social existence. Power of man 
over man still remains an evil, even though it may be an unavoidable 
instrument for the maintenance of justice and the preservation of 
society. The paradoxes and perils of man's collective life can never 
be completely eliminated in this world. But a religious awareness of 
their existence particularly a contrite recognition that each of us 
is thoroughly involved in them, whatever be our station in life may 

Religion and Society 183 

help arouse in us the uneasy conscience, the attitude of acting in re- 
pentance, that is our only safeguard amidst the corruptions of power 
and the endless relativities of history. 


Closest, perhaps, to the concern of Jewish religion in the sphere 
of political life is its stress on the inherent limitations of the claims 
of society and the state upon the individual person. Jewish religion, 
as we have seen, insists that genuine personality in man is developed 
through free community. Spciety is affirmed because and insofar as 
it serves to foster community among men, and the state is affirmed 
insofar as it is necessary to preserve society. But when the state claims 
to be identical with society and when society, on its part, sets itself 
up as a superperson, claiming superior reality and higher worth than 
the individual human being, both state and society become a force 
for evil and a danger to the moral life. The virtual deification of the 
collectivity, under the name of Society or the State, which runs 
through so much of Western thought from Plato to Hegel and the 
contemporary totalitarian, is utterly repugnant to the Hebraic out- 
look. Judaism affirms society to be more than the state, and the indi- 
vidual person to be more than either society or the state. It reserves 
for the individual basic rights and a sphere of life inviolate against 
all collective claims. It knows that society is more than the state be- 
cause it can remember that its own "heroic" period the period of 
the constitution of Israel as a "holy people" and its confrontation with 
God at Sinai was a time without king or state. It knows that the 
individual is more than either society or the state because it knows 
that "the collectivity cannot enter instead of the person into the dia- 
logue of the ages which the Godhead conducts with mankind;" it 
knows that only the individual can be truly responsible. Yet its atti- 
tude is not that of atomistic individualism. Rather does it take its 
stand affirming community as against both individual self-sufficiency, 
in which the personality of one's neighbor is ignored or denied, and 
the collectivism in which all persons are swallowed up and engulfed 
in the mass. This double distinction has been well formulated by 
Martin Buber: 

182 Judaism and Modern Man 

democracy, democracy in the sphere of economic life, the diffusion 
and control of economic power in the interests of freedom. It there- 
fore implies the effective participation of the members of the com- 
munity, producers and consumers alike, in the determination of the 
course, conditions and purposes of economic life. This I take to be 
the common element in all programs of economic reform in the in- 
terests of social justice. 

What I have been trying to say should not be interpreted as mean- 
ing that, in my view, Judaism is identical with democracy or that 
democracy is the only political system compatible with Jewish religion. 
Jewish religion possesses a range and relevance to human life that far 
transcends the limited problem of the political order of society. And 
since democracy as a system is conditioned by social and cultural 
factors which are not universal in history, Judaism has found it possi- 
ble to live with and give a degree of approval to many other types of 
political order on the one condition, however, that they do not at- 
tempt to deify themselves and make total claims on man. The burden 
of the preceding discussion is simply this: that the complex yet 
realistic conception of the nature of man affirmed by Hebraic religion 
provides the framework in terms of which the idea at the heart of 
democracy may best be understood and justified and its inadequacies 
criticized. 29 In this way, it offers modern man a fundamental line to 
help guide him amidst the ambiguities and perplexities of political 
existence in the chaos of contemporary history. It does not, however, 
"solve" the political problem by constructing a blueprint of some ideal 
system in which the tensions and paradoxes of political life will be 
eliminated. These tensions and paradoxes still remain. Earthly gov- 
ernment still remains a kind of usurpation of the divine prerogative, 
even though it may be necessary for social existence. Power of man 
over man still remains an evil, even though it may be an unavoidable 
instrument for the maintenance of justice and the preservation of 
society. The paradoxes and perils of man's collective life can never 
be completely eliminated in this world. But a religious awareness of 
their existence particularly a contrite recognition that each of us 
is thoroughly involved in them, whatever be our station in life may 

Religion and Society 183 

help arouse in us the uneasy conscience, the attitude of acting in re- 
pentance, that is our only safeguard amidst the corruptions of power 
and the endless relativities of history. 


Closest, perhaps, to the concern of Jewish religion in the sphere 
of political life is its stress on the inherent limitations of the claims 
of society and the state upon the individual person. Jewish religion, 
as we have seen, insists that genuine personality in man is developed 
through free community. Society is affirmed because and insofar as 
it serves to foster community among men, and the state is affirmed 
insofar as it is necessary to preserve society. But when the state claims 
to be identical with society and when society, on its part, sets itself 
up as a superperson, claiming superior reality and higher worth than 
the individual human being, both state and society become a force 
for evil and a danger to the moral life. The virtual deification of the 
collectivity, under the name of Society or the State, which runs 
through so much of Western thought from Plato to Hegel and the 
contemporary totalitarian, is utterly repugnant to the Hebraic out- 
look. Judaism affirms society to be more than the state, and the indi- 
vidual person to be more than either society or the state. It reserves 
for the individual basic rights and a sphere of life inviolate against 
all collective claims. It knows that society is more than the state be- 
cause it can remember that its own "heroic" period the period of 
the constitution of Israel as a "holy people" and its confrontation with 
God at Sinai was a time without king or state. It knows that the 
individual is more than either society or the state because it knows 
that "the collectivity cannot enter instead of the person into the dia- 
logue of the ages which the Godhead conducts with mankind;" 30 it 
knows that only the individual can be truly responsible. Yet its atti- 
tude is not that of atomistic individualism. Rather does it take its 
stand affirming community as against both individual self-sufficiency, 
in which the personality of one's neighbor is ignored or denied, and 
the collectivism in which all persons are swallowed up and engulfed 
in the mass. This double distinction has been well formulated by 
Martin Buber: 

184 Judaism and Modern Man 

Individualism Che writes] understands only a part of man; col- 
lectivism understands man only as a part. Nejther advances to 
the wholeness of man, to man as a whole. Individualism sees 
man only in relation to himself; but collectivism does not see 
man at all it sees only "society". . .The fundamental fact of 
human existence is neither the individual as such nor the aggre- 
gate as such. . .The fundamental fact of human existence is 
man-with-man. . .Collectivity is based on an organized atrophy 
of personal existence; community, on its increase and confirma- 
tion in life lived towards the other. . .The person becomes ques- 
tionable through being collectivized. . . Primacy is ascribed to 
the collectivity. . .The collectivity becomes what really exists; 
the person becomes derivatory. Thereby the immeasurable value 
which constitutes man is imperilled; it is a doctrine of serfdom. 81 

The individual is in duty bound to serve the society of which he 
is part and to respect its authority: "Separate not yourself from the 
community," is a familiar rabbinic dictum. 32 Yet the individual tran- 
scends his society and all possible societies, for society has no juris- 
diction over him in the things that matter most his conscience and 
his relation to his God. Standing on the divine law, he may judge 
and even defy the merely relative justice of his society. "The example 
of the Hebrew nation," Lord Acton states, "laid down [the line] on 
which all freedom has been won . . .the doctrine of the higher 
law, . . .the principle that all political authorities must be tested and 
reformed according to a code which was not made by man." 33 The 
integration of the good within any actual social system can never be 
more than provisional, for there is no temporal society in which the 
human spirit can find final rest and which it may not judge from a 
vantage point that transcends it. If kingdom there must be for our 
ultimate ideals to find lodgment, that kingdom can be nothing short 
of the Kingdom of Heaven. Of that society, and of that society alone, 
man can regard himself as a citizen without reservation. 

It therefore goes without saying that the totalitarian claim of society 
or the state to control a man's entire life is utterly repugnant to Ju- 
daism. Neither society nor the state can make such absolute claims; 
they are barred from doing so because, in the Jewish view, man is 
totally subject only to God, and it is an affront to Heaven for man 
either to claim or to acknowledge a right which is God's alone. Our 

Religion and Society 185 

charter of freedom as against men is thus ultimately derived from the 
humble recognition of our total subjection to God. 

Judaism long ago made the distinction between the "things that 
are God's" and the "things that are Caesar's." 34 But the "things that 
are God's" are not limited in Jewish tradition to the teaching and 
practice of religion in the narrower sense. God's law is relevant to 
all things and therefore in all things there are limits beyond which 
society or the state may not rightfully go. Rabbinic law specifically 
forbids the Jew to obey the state if the latter enjoins anything that 
involves idolatry, murder or sexual impurity even if such disobedi- 
ence costs one his life. 36 The areas in which the claims of the state 
must be questioned or denied are not fixed once and for all; they vary 
with circumstances and the changing conditions of social life. Ulti- 
mately, one's conscience must decide and we must recognize a man's 
right nay, his duty to follow his conscience even when his con- 
science seems to us to be wrong. But whatever the relativities of the 
situation, the principle is always the same: neither society nor the 
state has a total claim on man and when such claim is made, it must 
be categorically rejected. 

Not only the individual person but the community of believers 
transcends the state and has rights against it as well as against society 
as a whole. Jewish tradition is one continuous story of the witness 
of faith against those who hold power in state and society. "The 
prophet," Buber writes, "is appointed to oppose the king and even 
more, history [i.e., the course of events]." 36 From prophet against 
king we go on to Hasidean against Hasmonean, to Pharisee against 
Sadducee and Herodian. In every case, it is the man or community 
of faith challenging the inordinate pretensions of official society in 
areas where its authority cannot be recognized. "In the eyes of [the 
Pharisees]," Leo Baeck reminds us, "the struggle for God and his 
commandments was often a struggle against the commandments of 
the state." 37 

It is hardly to be expected that any state, even the most democratic, 
or any society, even the most tolerant, will welcome this radical chal- 
lenge to its authority, for all societies and all states have secret pre- 
tensions to absoluteness. Yet this challenge is the only condition upon 
which the precarious balance between freedom and order in society 

186 Judaism and Modern Man 

can be maintained and social authority prevented from lapsing into 
totalitarianism. It is, as Lord Acton has said, the line "on which all 
freedom has been won." It is the only effective principle that can be 
set against the powerful trend toward the enslavement of the human 
spirit that is the mark of our time. 

This trend toward the enslavement of the human spirit is born out 
of the malady of the age. We may here recall what was said in an 
earlier chapter about the disintegration of life in modern industrial 
society. In an effort to refashion himself and the world in autonomous 
terms, modern man has disrupted the age-old continuities of life re- 
ligion, the family, the community and has reduced the individual 
to a forlorn, fragmentary existence in which he is no more than an 
insignificant cog in the vast impersonal mechanism of society. Loneli- 
ness and anxiety pervade life in the wasteland of our "asocial 
society," 38 our society without community. Totalitarianism comes 
forward to offer the semblance of the community we crave, the "to- 
getherness of the whole" in race or party or nation, and all it asks is 
that we abandon our personal being and responsibility. No wonder 
that it has been able to work such enchantment upon scores of mil- 
lions of forlorn and disoriented men of our time. 

For totalitarianism, we must never permit ourselves to forget, 
comes not simply as the claim of an external power to total allegiance; 
there is something in the human spirit itself which drives man to total 
engulfment in the mass and idolatrous submission to a leader. Free- 
dom is hard to bear, an intolerable burden for those who have lost 
their grounding in the divine. Freedom means responsibility; it means 
decision, and the responsibility of decision engenders that painful 
anxiety which Kierkegaard has called the "dizziness of freedom." 89 
The urge to renounce one's freedom so as to relieve oneself of re- 
sponsibility is an impulse deeply rooted in the human heart; in our 
own time, it has driven whole peoples to seek a self-annihilating se- 
curity in the totalitarian herd. Anything is welcomed if it promises 
escape from the dreadful anomie of contemporary existence. 40 

From the viewpoint of Hebraic religion, surrender to the lure of 
totalitarianism is treason to God. For the renunciation of freedom 
and responsibility is the renunciation of human personality; it is the 

Religion and Society 187 

repudiation of the divine demand upon man to fulfil himself as the 
unique image of God. "Man," says J. P. Sartre, "is condemned to be 
free." 41 True, but it is precisely this "condemnation" to freedom that 
constitutes the grandeur of human existence, which no one may re- 
nounce and yet remain truly human. Totalitarianism therefore con- 
fronts us with a double responsibility: to reorganize social life so as 
to make possible the emergence of true community in freedom, and 
to strengthen within us our spiritual resources of personality and re- 
sponsibility. Both tasks alike imply unswerving allegiance to the di- 
vine law as the law of our life. 

All earthly rule is subject to the divine law; from this it follows that 
all actual politics must be secular. This is no paradox. It simply means 
that no course or policy of government can possibly claim to be the 
simple enactment of the divine will; no folkway or custom or social 
standard regulating human life can make pretensions to absoluteness. 
Theocracy in which the ruler, whether king or priest, claims divine 
sanction and immunity for his actions on the ground that it is not he 
but God through him who is really ruling is utterly contrary to the 
spirit of Hebraic religion. "The idea of theocracy as opposed to any 
other form of government was quite foreign to the Rabbis," Schechter 
says. "There is not the slightest hint in the whole Rabbinical literature 
that the Rabbis give any preference to a hierarchy with an ecclesiasti- 
cal head who pretends to be the vice-regent of God . . . The high 
priests, Menelaus and Alcimus, were just as wicked ... as the [lay 
rulers] , Herod and Archelaus." 42 Every legitimate social power, in the 
opinion of the rabbis, 43 receives its authority from Heaven, but this 
"commission," so to speak, does not convert these powers into in- 
fallible instruments of the Deity. They, no more than ordinary folk, 
have the right to cover their entirely human activities with the mantle 
of divinity or to claim a divine sanction for their deeds. All, all are 
subject to the divine law, which is beyond the law of state or society, 
and all fall under divine judgment. 

Emphasis on the secular and relative character of actual politics 
is so important because the conversion of a social purpose, no matter 
how meritorious, into a "holy cause" opens the door to the most de- 
structive fanaticism. "Holy causes" communism, fascism, national- 

188 Judaism and Modern Man 

ism, even democracy conceived as religion are the curse of our time, 
which has witnessed an upsurge of fanaticism almost unparalleled in 
virulence and scope. When a cause becomes "holy," the means used 
to achieve it inevitably become vile; all dikes and barriers are swept 
aside and everything is permitted. The unshakable affirmation of the 
transcendence and holiness of God, which is at the heart of Hebraic 
religion, stands as a perpetual challenge to every earthly power that 
is tempted to make pretensions beyond its limited and creaturely au- 

The political thought that derives from Hebraic religion is built on 
a series of antitheses. Man free under God is confronted by the co- 
ercive state, the individual person by the claims of society, the com- 
munity of believers by the authority of the secular world: at every 
point, there is a tension and polarity that cannot be resolved through 
any dialectic. Each side has its right and its necessity, even though 
the two can never be fully reconciled in this world. Every formula of 
adjustment, however useful, is but provisional and temporary; even 
democracy is no more than "a method of finding proximate solutions 
of insoluble problems."* 4 The contradictions that crop up every- 
where in social existence are contradictions inherent in the conditions 
of human life in history and cannot, therefore, be finally eliminated 
within history. In one way or another, they are all reducible to the 
crucial contradiction between power and justice. No historical so- 
ciety, no society of sinful men, is capable either of wielding power 
without corruption or of maintaining justice without power. It is the 
highest reach of human wisdom to maintain the tension between free- 
dom and order as a living force, recognizing both the existence of the 
conflict and the fact that resolution of it is not possible within history. 

Yet that cannot be our last word. For while Hebraic religion is 
ready to recognize, and in fact even to insist upon, the contradictions 
of human life in history, it cannot admit them to be final. It sees with 
the eyes of faith the resolution of the contradictions of human existence 
in the great fulfilment toward which all history is heading, where in 
the Kingdom of God freedom and order, power and justice, will be- 
come one in a love that dissolves all oppositions. It is this faith that 
enables one to find meaning in the partial and precarious achievements 

Religion and Society 189 

of history, while avoiding the pitfall of absolutizing the relative and of 
identifying the temporary balance we may have been able to establish 
with the final truth of life. The final truth of life is not within life and 
history but beyond it. 


1. M. Sanh. 4.5. 

2. J. Wellhausen, Em Gememwesen ohne Obrigkeit; quoted by Martin 
Buber, Moses (East & West Library: London, 1946), p. 87. 

3. "Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at 
Ram ah and they said to him: *. . . Now make us a king to judge us like 
all the nations.' But the thing was evil in the sight of Samuel . . . And 
Samuel prayed unto the Lord and the Lord said to Samuel: 'Hearken unto 
the voice of the people . ., for they have not rejected you but they have 
rejected me from being king over them.' " I Sam. 8:4-7. "I gave them a 
king in mine anger." Hos. 13:11. 

4. Of course, there is also a pro-monarchical strand in Scripture, but even 
this is much mitigated and circumscribed by the basic affirmation of the 
kingship of God. "The Hebrews . . . never thought that 'kingship descend- 
ed from heaven.' Hence the Hebrew king did not become a necessary 
bond between the people and the divine powers. On the contrary, it was 
in the kingless period that the people had been singled out by Yahveh and 
that they had been bound, as a whole, by the Covenant of Sinai . . . Yah- 
veh's covenant with the people antedated kingship." Henri Frankfort, 
Kingship and the Gods (University of Chicago: Chicago, 1948), pp. 339, 
341. "In Israel, monarchy was a unique phenomenon. Elsewhere, the king 
was absolute; a limted monarchy is, to the Oriental, a contradiction in 
terms " T. H. Robinson, Palestine in General History, p. 42. "The mon- 
archy endured on sufferance, never for one moment surviving or func- 
tioning in its own right." O. J. Baab, The Theology of the Old Testament 
(Abingdon-Cokesbury: Nashville, Tenn., 1949), p. 167. In rabbinical 
thought, the ancient Davidic kingship was already part of the sacred 
tradition and closely interwoven with the Messianic hope. It was not an 
operative concept in actual political life. 

5. B. Baba Metzia lOa (B. Kiddushm 22a). 

6. M. Abot 3.2. 

7. Bronislaw Malinowski, Freedom and Civilization (Roy: New York, 
1944), p. 244. 

8. Thus, e.g., John Dewey: "For in the long run, democracy will stand or 
fall with the possibility of maintaining the faith [in human nature] and 

190 Judaism and Modern Man 

justifying it by works." Freedom and Culture (Putnam's: New York, 
1939), p. 126. 

9. V. I. Lenin, State and Revolution (International Publishers: New 
York), chap, iv, sec. 6. Almost identical sentiments are expressed by Wil- 
liam Godwin, Political Justice, Bk. VIII, chap. ix. 

10. This is precisely Engels' argument, as Lenin points out. State and 
Revolution, chap, iv, sees. 3 and 6. 

11. "In monarchy, the private interest Cof the sovereign] is the same as 
the public interest." Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, chap. xix. 

12. "Now the sovereign, being formed only of the individuals that com- 
pose it, neither has nor can have any interest contrary to theirs; conse- 
quently, the sovereign power need give no guarantees to its subjects." 
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Social Contract, Bk. I, chap, vii. 

13. For the Stalinist use of this argument, see Sidney and Beatrice Webb, 
Soviet Communism (Scribner's: New York, 1936), particularly Vol. II, 
chap. viii. 

14. Rosa Luxemburg, Program Manifesto of the Spartacus League, Janu- 
ary 1919. 

15. Buber makes a telling argument against this point of view in his 
polemic with Fnednch Gogarten. Gogarten finds man "radically and 
therefore irrevocably evil, that is, in the grip of evil." The ethical quality 
of the state, therefore, consists simply "m its warding off the evil to which 
men have fallen prey by its sovereign power and by its right over the life 
and property of its subjects." To which Buber replies: "The concept to 
which Gogarten refers, of the radical evil of man, his absolute sinfulness, 
is taken from the realm where man confronts God and is significant there 
alone. . . . Man, more precisely fallen man, considered as being unre- 
deemed, is 'before God' sinful and depraved. Now I do not see how this 
concept of being evil can be translated from the realm of being 'before 
God' into that of being before earthly authorities, and yet retain its radical 
nature. In the sight of God, a state of radical evil can be ascribed to man 
because God is God and man is man and the distance between them is 
absolute ... In the sight of his fellow-men, of human groups and orders, 
man, it seems to me, cannot be properly described as simply sinful, because 
the distance is lacking which alone is able to establish the unconditional." 
Buber, "The Question to the Single One," Between Man and Man (Kegan 
Paul: London, 1947), pp. 76-77. 

16. Cf. Will Heiberg, "7 he hihu \ of Power" Jewish Frontier, Vol. XII 
(March, 1945), No. 3. 

17. Lord Acton, Letter to Mandell Creighton, April 5, 1887, Essays on 
Freedom and Power, ed. Gertrude Himmelfarb (Beacon: Boston, 1948), 
p. 364. 

"The possession of power inevitably corrupts the untrammeled judg- 

Religion and Society 191 

ment of reason." I. Kant, "Perpetual Peace," Critique of Practical Reason 
and Other Writings in Moral Philosophy, ed. L. W. Beck (University of 
Chicago: Chicago, 1949), p. 330. 

18. B. Pesahim 87b. "When man is appointed an official on earth, he be- 
comes a man of evil above." Midrash Haserot ve-Yaterot 39. 

19. M. Abot 1.10. 

20. Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (Simon & 
Schuster: New York, 1945), pp. 728-29. See also Russell, The Impact of 
Science on Society (Columbia University: New York, 1951). 

21. Machiavelli himself was probably not a Machiavellian in this sense, 
if one goes not by The Prince alone but by his writings as a whole, par- 
ticularly the Discourses on L/vy, just as Marx was not a Marxian in the 
common acceptation of the term. 

22. Hobbes, Leviathan, Part I, chap. x. 

23. "Power abdicates only under stress of counter-power." Buber, Paths 
in Utopia (Macmillan: New York, 1950), p. 104. 

24. Cf. Will Herberg, "Bureaucracy and Democracy in Labor Unions," 
Antioch Review, Vol. Ill (Spring, 1943), No. 3. 

25. Some years ago, a distinguished social scientist told a convention of the 
Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis that "they held 'a 
refined scientific instrument for answering the question of who can be 
trusted with power.' He advocated that it be applied to decision-making 
public figures in the form of tests and interviews based on psychoanalyti- 
cally procured data." New York Times, May 13, 1946. 

The messianic pretensions of the "new" anthropology are examined in 
a very interesting article by Robert Endelman, "The New Anthropology 
and its Ambitions." Commentary, Vol. VIII (September, 1949), No. 3. 

26. "In the questions of power . . ., let no more be heard of confidence 
in man . . . Free government is founded in jealousy [i.e., suspicion], not 
in confidence." These are the words of Thomas Jefferson (Kentucky Reso- 
lutions, 1798), popularly regarded as America's greatest apostle of "faith 
in man." 

27. "Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government 
of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or 
have we found angels in the form of kings to govern him?" Jefferson, 
Messages and Papers, ed. James D. Richardson (Bureau of National Art 
and Literature: Washington, 1910), I, 332. 

28. "[The American Constitution] is the work of men who believed in 
original sin and were resolved to leave open for transgressors no door 
which they could possibly shut." James Bryce, The American Common- 
wealth (Macmillan: London, 1889), 2nd ed., revised, Part I, chap. XXVI, 
sec. viii. 

29. Cf. Herberg, "Democracy and the Nature of Man," Christianity 
and Society, Vol. XI (Fall, 1946), No. 4. 

192 Judaism and Modern Man 

30. Buber, "The Question to the Single One," Between Man and Man, 
p. 80. 

31. Buber, "What is Man?" Between Man and Man, pp. 200, 202-3, 31, 

32. M . Abot 2.4. 

33. Acton, "The History of Freedom in Antiquity," Essays on Freedom 
and Power, p. 33. 

34. "They [the rabbis! tried 'to render unto Caesar the things that were 
Caesar's and unto God the things that were God's.' " Solomon Schechter, 
Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (Macmillan: New York, 1909), p. 

35. "R. Yohanan said in the name of R. Simon b. Yehozadak: A vote 
was taken in Lydda and it was decided: with regard to all sins of the 
1 orah, if it is said to a man, transgress and you will not be killed, let him 
transgress except for idolatry, sexual immorality and murder." B Sanh. 

36. Buber, "Biblical Leadership," Israel and the World (Schocken: New 
York, 1948), p. 130. 

37. Leo Baeck, "The Pharisees," The Pharisees and Other Essays 
(Schocken: New York, 1947), p. 48. 

38. The phrase is Alex Comfort's. Comfort describes it as "a society of 
onlookers, congested but lonely, technically advanced but utterly insecure, 
subject to a complicated mechanism of order but personally irresponsible." 
The Novel in Our Time (Phoenix House: London, 1948), p. 12. See also 
Dr. Comfort's Sexual Behavior in Society (Duckworth: London, 1950), 
pp. 41ff. 

39. Soren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Dread (Princeton University: 
Princeton, N. J., 1944), p. 55. 

40. "Reduced to panic, industrial man joins the lemming migration, the 
convulsive mass escape from freedom to totalitarianism, hurling himself 
from the bleak and rocky cliffs into the deep, womb-dark sea below." A. M. 
Schlesinger, Jr., The Vital Center (Houghton Mifflm: Boston, 1949), p. 
244. See also the brilliant analysis of totalitarianism and "totalitarian 
man" in chapters iv and v of the same work. 

41. Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism (Philosophical Library: New York, 
1947), p. 27. 

42. Schechter, Some Aspects, etc., pp. 92-93. "The Jewish theocracy, so- 
called, was an aberration from the true national genius and tradition." 
H. and H. A. Frankfort, et at., The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient 
Man (University of Chicago: Chicago, 1946), p. 358. 

43. B. Berakot 58a; B. Abodah Zarah lla. 

44. Reinhold Niebuhr, The Children of Light and the Children of Dark- 
ness (Scribner's: New York, 1944), p. 118. 



All peoples have their history, recorded in written word or oral 
tradition. All have their records, their monuments, their tales of 
great deeds, their annals and chronicles. But the sense of history, 
the feeling for the full reality and significance of temporal events, is 
by no means universal. It is, in fact, the fruit of the Hebraic religious 
spirit and comes to us, directly or indirectly, from the Hebraic heri- 
tage of our civilization. 

"An authentic conception of history," writes Berdyaev, "was for- 
eign to Hellenic consciousness. Its origin must be sought rather in the 
the consciousness and spirit of ancient Israel. It was the Jews who 
contributed the concept of the 'historical' to world history." 1 Not 
only the Greeks but all ancient peoples uninfluenced by the Hebrews 
fell short of the idea of history. Nowhere did "they show [a] sense 
of the unfolding [ of events] through the ages according to some fixed 
plan or temporal order." 2 The Hindus, indeed, committed as they 
were to an extreme spiritualism which saw the whole earthly scene 
as may a, a mist of illusion, even held temporal history to be devoid of 
reality. History was not something that the Eastern mind could take 
seriously. 3 

The Greeks had their historians, and great ones, too. But their his 
torical insight was surprisingly limited. Herodotus wrote of the won- 
ders of the world and the achievements of the Hellenes. Thucydides, 
with scrupulous care and critical intelligence, probed the motivations 
of men in politics so as to provide lessons for citizens and statesmen 
of the future. Polybius strove to account for the greatness of Rome 
in terms of national character and domestic institutions. Plutarch pre- 
pared his inspirational biographies as moral tracts. Livy celebrated 
the greatness of the past and Tacitus pilloried the corruptions of his 
day. But none of them not even Polybius, not even Thucydides 
showed any sign of believing that the doings of men in time were really 
important, were somehow significant for the destiny of mankind. To 


194 Judaism and Modern Man 

the Greeks, mankind had no destiny. The strivings and doings of 
men, their enterprises, conflicts and achievements, led nowhere. All, 
all would be swallowed up in the cycle of eternal recurrence that was 
the law of the cosmos. 

That is why Greek thought, in which the ancient mind outside of 
Israel reached its zenith, could develop no true idea of history. In ad- 
dition to a strong strain of idealism, which led the Platonist to devalu- 
ate the empirical and mutable in comparison with the timeless, and 
the Aristotelian to brush aside the particular and individual as merely 
"accidental," there was the fatality of the recurrent cycle which gripped 
everyone from philosopher to the man in the street. 1 Everything 
moved in cycles: day and night, the seasons of the year, birth and 
death, generation and corruption. Whatever men did in time could 
have no lasting significance since it was all bound to be wiped out by 
the turn of the wheel. The Stoics even spoke of a cosmic fire in which 
the entire universe was periodically consumed, only to begin again 
anew: "And so there will be another Socrates and another Athenian 
jury which will again sentence him to death . . ." Under such circum- 
stances, only the timeless, only the eternal idea, could retain any value; 
true historical consciousness was out of the question. 5 

"The concept of history is the product of Prophetism." f> The pro- 
phet is pre-eminently the interpreter of history, in which he finds re- 
vealed God's will, judgment and redemptive purpose. The prophet, 
moreover, looks forward. The pagan world had no sense of time as 
creative and therefore no sense of the future. But in the prophetic 
vision, time is primarily future; past and present take on significance 
in terms of that toward which they are directed. 

The prophets were the first authentic "philosophers of history." 7 
"The Hebrews," writes Hyatt in his study of prophetic religion, "were 
the first people in the ancient world to have a sense of history. They 
were the first to conceive of God as a God of history, manifesting him- 
self on the stage of time and controlling the destiny of men and na- 
tions. The Hebrews affirmed the reality and importance of time. To 
them, it was not an illusion, something from which man must escape, 
but something which must be redeemed." 8 In its realistic emphasis on 
the full authenticity of time, change and human action, Hebraic re- 

Religion and Society 195 

ligion comes much closer to what is best in modern thought than does 
the idealism of the Greek tradition. 

The Hebraic mind, as we find it in Scripture, sees all history as a 
great and meaningful process under the control of the God who is 
the Lord of history. Already with Amos, the vision is universal. The 
God of Israel is the Lord of men everywhere. Under his governance 
stand all peoples of the earth, whether they know it or not: "Did I 
not lead Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caph- 
tor, and the Syrians from Kir?" (Amos 9:7). History is of one piece, 
a single great drama, under one Lord: thus emerges the idea of the 
unity of history as world-history* 

Because history is under the control of God, it has purpose. "The 
Hebrews did not think of history as a series of cycles without ultimate 
meaning . . . History was linear: the past itself showed purpose, and 
the past contained promises which could be fulfilled only in the fu- 
ture." 10 God's ends are effected with time, in and through history; 
the salvation that is promised as the ultimate validation of life lies 
indeed beyond history but it lies beyond it as its fulfilment and consum- 
mation. It is conceived not as the negation of time but as a "new 
time" in which historical life will be redeemed and transfigured. From 
this point of view, earthly history takes on a meaning and seriousness 
that are completely absent where the Hebraic influence has not been 

But above all it is the sense of the future that creates authentic his- 
tory. The pagan world was literally without hope: there was nothing 
to look forward to, nothing to strive for beyond one's own day, noth- 
ing that time could bring but a turn of the wheel of fortune, a recur- 
rence of the cycle. Hence the profound melancholy that pervades the 
best of pagan spirituality and that leaves heavy traces even in the 
book of Ecclesiastcs. 11 Hence, too, the astonishing fact that all the 
historical writing of the pagan world, even the most profound, is turned 
entirely to the past, without any feeling for the forward thrust of his- 
torical time. "The classical historian," according to Lowith, "asks: 
How did it come about? The modern historian: How shall we go 
ahead?" 12 This attitude, which seems so obvious to us and which 

196 Judaism and Modern Man 

would have been so incomprehensible to Tacitus and Thucydides, is 
the product of the Hebrew prophets for whom the past and the present 
were oriented to the future as the beginnings of a great work to its 
completion, or better, as the promise to its fulfilment. With this liv- 
ing, vital sense of the future, the true idea of history is born. 

It is, therefore, no mere fancy or pious compliment to speak of the 
prophets as the creators of the idea of history. In the prophetic books 
and in all other parts of Scripture filled with the prophetic spirit, we 
get a glimpse of human history the doings of men in time as uni- 
fied, real, significant, the medium and vehicle of the divine purpose. 
Human action in history is not mere moving in an endless circle; it gets 
somewhere, it accomplishes something, it has meaning to God and 
man alike. It is serious, the most serious thing conceivable for man, 
for it is in the course and context of history that, in the freedom of 
decision, he confronts God and works out his destiny. 

This sense of history permeates Judaism and Christianity to the 
very core. It is true that with the rise of scholastic rationalism, rooted 
in a neo-Platonized version of Aristotle, history was denied any philo- 
sophic standing and the real and normative were again identified with 
the timeless. Maimonides, Baron tells us, "was frequently impatient 
with the accidental turns of historical events/' 13 and Thomas Aquinas 
certainly shared his impatience. 14 But even then, all was not lost. 
Both Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas were committed to a faith 
(hat was historical through and through, that looked to the future for 
the fulfilment of its goal and that no metaphyical speculations could 
turn into a system of timeless doctrine. The idea of history remained 
dormant within the elaborate structures of scholastic theology, but it 
was vital and operative in the faith of the believers who lived by the 
promise of the future of the Messiah, of the "new heaven and new 
earth," foretold by the prophets. With the decay of scholasticism, the 
idea was released and began to work its tremendous effect upon the 
Western mind. "All modern attempts to delineate history as a mean- 
ingful . . . progress toward fulfilment," says Lowith, "depend upon 
this theological thought" 16 that came with the prophetic revelation. 
It is an idea that has transformed the world. 16 

Religion and Society 197 


The search for the meaning of history is, in a sense, the ultimate 
problem of life. For human life is not simply lived in history, in the 
context of social existence; it is lived as history, as a temporal process 
in which the fate of the individual is somehow related to his occurrence 
in time. Even those who see salvation as essentially an escape from 
history must first take account of history, if only to expose it as ulti- 
mately meaningless. History temporal existence, temporal activity 
is the stuff of life, and any inquiry into the meaning of life becomes, 
at some stage, an inquiry into the meaning of that ongoing process 
of life, individual and collective, which we call history. 

History confronts us as a problem in meaning because events in 
themselves so obviously lack meaning. Taken in their bare particular- 
ity, the occurrences of life can never lay claim to a validity that will 
stand up against what the next wave of time will bring. While we are 
engaged in any enterprise whether it be making love or making war 
or making money it seems laden with ultimate significance and en- 
tirely self-justifying, but the slightest reflection is often enough to make 
us realize how deceptive such appearances are. Viewed in a some- 
what larger perspective of interest and time, the enterprises that once 
seemed to us so tremendously significant quickly lose their meaning. 
Love frequently turns into indifference or hate; a revolution conceived 
in an enthusiasm for freedom is wiped out or else culminates in total 
slavery; even the mightiest empires are here today and gone tomorrow. 
All human existence is precarious and equivocal, because nothing in 
life is ever unambiguously good or evil and no human endeavor is 
exempt from what the future may bring. Taken in their own terms, 
the events of history add up to nothing. All effort, as the Preacher 
tells us, is a "striving after wind" (Eccles. 1:14); and in the end, 
death swallows up everything in the oblivion of nothingness. 

Sometimes we believe we discern fragments of meaning in life and 
history beyond the events themselves. But these fragments of meaning, 
whether we think of them as partial judgments of God or as partial 
schemes of rational intelligibility, cannot maintain themselves as mean- 
ingful in a vast sea of chaos and absurdity. Some overall affirmation 
about the totality of life and history is necessary if life is to receive 

198 Judaism and Modern Man 

any validation and history any meaning. All men, whether they know 
it or not, make such overall affirmations. For men, unlike animal 
creation, cannot live out their lives in the fixed patterns of nature; 
in their freedom, they must live to some purpose and that purpose, 
however inarticulate, however primitively conceived, is in effect one's 
"philosophy" of life and history. A "philosophy of history" in this 
sense is thus no theoretical question; it is quite literally a question of 

Man's first impulse in validating his existence is to take some partial 
value, some partial interest or activity, and exalt it to universal signi- 
ficance as the ultimate meaning of life. We are already familiar with 
this mechanism, for it is the device of absolutizing the relative which 
we have learned to know as idolatry. This is what men do who, as 
we say, "live for" their family, their business, their party, their nation, 
their cause. It is the dynamic of this universalized interest that keeps 
them going and gives significance to their lives. 

For much of life, particularly in ordinary times, this may prove 
adequate, and yet ultimately it is not enough. These partial meanings, 
however desperately we try to universalize them, are, simply as such, 
never sufficient to sustain life. We "live for" our family, our business, 
our nation, but none of these is immortal; we can conceive of them 
as coming abruptly to an end, taking with them all the meaning of 
life. Causes and movements, however exalted, are, insofar as they 
enter into history, subject to all its vicissitudes. Something more is 
apparently needed if life is to be sustained. 

Faced with this problem, we may take one of three ways: (a) we 
may assert that while any particular event or enterprise of history is 
equivocal, history itself as process is meaningful; (b) we may deny 
that history has any meaning and look for the meaning of human life 
in an escape from history, in a dimension of eternity far removed 
from the vicissitudes of senseless change; or finally (c) we may strong- 
ly affirm the reality and significance of history but insist that its mean- 
ing, both in part and in whole, is ultimately to be resolved not within 
history itself but in terms of an "end" which is beyond history and yet 
is directly relevant to it as final fulfilment and judgment. The first is 
the this-worldly naturalism that has become more or less normative 
in modern thought; the second is the otherworldly idealism of Greco- 

Religion and Society 199 

Oriental spirituality and of almost all our philosophic tradition; the 
third is the trans-worldly messianism that is the answer of Hebraic 
religion to the ultimate problems of existence. 

The this-worldly naturalism so characteristic of modern thought 
takes many forms, but they are all concerned with making history self- 
redemptive. Whatever problems arise in history, history will solve; 
whatever evils emerge in human existence, history, in its process, will 
eliminate. Taking history in its entirety, the meaninglessness that is 
undoubtedly inherent in particular events disappears, for each event 
is seen to be the result of a meaningful process. And while, of course, 
no man can claim to know the entire pattern of events, it is possible 
for us to master history by acquiring an insight into its inner "law of 
motion," which is always immanent. History is self-revealing in its 
true significance: this is the claim of every naturalistic philosophy of 
history and of some philosophies whose naturalistic premises are not 
so obvious at first sight. 

Let us be clear from the beginning that whatever validity such 
claims may have, this validity is not that of empirical science. Sci- 
ence, no matter how far the term is stretched, reveals no ultimate 
meaning in anything, least of all in history. Every interpretation of 
history is ultimately grounded in an affirmation of faith about exist- 
ence, and no amount of manipulation of scientific-sounding phrases 
can eliminate the presuppositions at the core. What we are discussing, 
therefore, is not the deliverances of the "science" of history but the 
constructions of the human mind in an effort to give rational form to 
one's central affirmation of faith. This is as true of the naturalist 
philosopher, who thinks he is talking science when he is discoursing 
on the meaning of history, as it is of the religious thinker, who knows 
that he is dealing with theology. 

Naturalism has brought forth many different schemes of meaning 
to master the chaos of history. Their variety is due primarily to the 
difference in the aspect of "nature" that is taken as the principle of 
meaning. But whatever the type, all or almost all naturalistic schemes 
in modern times resolve themselves into some theory of evolution, 
more particularly into some doctrine of progress. The progressive 
process may be causal and mechanical, as in Spencer and orthodox 

200 Judaism and Modern Man 

Darwinism; it may be organic and vitalistic, as with Bergson; it may 
be logico-dialectical, as with Hegel (who has his naturalistic aspects) 
and Marx; it may even be naively rationalistic, as with some of the 
eighteenth-century philosophes. It may proceed harmoniously or 
through conflict, gradually or by way of sudden "revolution." Through 
all variations, however, the upshot remains the same: history is self- 
redemptive, history is salvation. It possesses within itself the power 
to solve every problem and answer every question; given time, there 
is nothing it cannot accomplish. Spencer is not very popular these 
days; he is felt to be somehow too crass and crude, too self-assured in 
his sweeping assertions. And yet it is Spencer who has formulated the 
doctrine of redemption through progress with a conviction and force 
that remain unparalleled, and it is to Spencer that we must turn if 
we want to get an idea of what the gospel of progress really affirms. 

Progress [writes the English philosopher] is not an accident but 
a necessity. The modifications mankind have undergone and are 
still undergoing result from a law underlying the whole organic 
creation, and, provided the human race continues and the con- 
stitution of things remains the same, those modifications must 
end in completeness ... As surely as there is any efficacy in edu- 
cational culture or any meaning in such terms as habit, custom, 
practice, ... so surely must things we call evil and immorality 
disappear; so surely must man become perfect. 17 

Does this sound incredibly naive, hopelessly mid-Victorian? Then 
listen to John Dewey, the dean of contemporary American philoso- 
phers and the honored spokesman of what regards itself as ultramodern 
naturalism. "Life," Dewey tells us, "travels upward in spirals. 18 . . . 
Social intelligence has found itself after millions of years of errancy as 
a method and it will not be lost forever in the darkness of night." 19 
Is this so very different from Spencer? "Life," we are assured by both 
alike, "travels upward." Both see the past as hopelessly benighted 
"millions of years of errancy" is Dewey's sweeping phrase and our 
own time, the past three or four centuries, as the new age of enlighten- 
ment. Both see human reason, aided by more automatic forces, as the 
operative power in progress: "social intelligence," Dewey calls it; 
"educational culture" is Spencer's term. The only difference is that 
Spencer, writing in the full flush of mid-nineteenth-century optimism, 
knew nothing of the "darkness of night" to come. But although Dewey 

Religion and Society 201 

knows it indeed, it was in the very midst of it that he composed the 
books from which I have quoted (1935, 1940) it really means noth- 
ing to him so far as his philosophy is concerned. The resurgence of 
demonic evil in this century he sees simply as a passing event, a futile 
attempt to "set the clock back;" our enlightenment, he assures us, "will 
not be lost forever in the darkness of night." Why not? Obviously, 
since Dewey would not appeal to God, it must be because he has an 
unshakable faith in the redemptive power of history, exactly as Spencer 
has. Progress may meet its setbacks on occasion, but these are at 
worst only turns of the spiral, the real and decisive movement is ever 
upward and onward, toward "completeness" and "perfection." That 
stage may be far off indeed, it may, strictly speaking, never be quite 
attainable but, apart from a few temporary reverses here and there, 
we arc constantly approaching nearer to it. Such is the normative 
doctrine of progress; it may be held wholeheartedly or with reserva- 
tions and modifications, but as long as it is held at all, the central 
affirmation remains untouched: history is salvation. 

It would be rather pointless in this day and age to attempt a de- 
tailed refutation of this conception. The events of the past generation 
have thoroughly discredited it, and its basic presuppositions have been 
challenged by the most significant thinkers of our time. "We delude 
ourselves," Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. concludes, "when we think 
that history teaches us that evil will be 'outmoded' by progress . . . 
[This] is to misconceive and grotestquely to sentimentalize the nature 
of history. For history is not a redeemer, promising to solve all human 
problems; nor is man capable of transcending the limitations of his 
being. Man generally is entangled in insoluble problems; history is 
consequently a tragedy in which we are all involved, whose keynote 
is anxiety and frustration, not progress and fulfilment." 20 With this 
judgment we can certainly agree. We need not deny that there has 
been notable progress made in various fields of human life and in 
various periods of human history, or that we always stand under the 
obligation to enhance human welfare on all fronts. But we must chal- 
lenge any doctrine that transforms progress into a cosmic force capable 
of redeeming mankind and completing the meaning of history. 

Much more important than engaging in a polemic with a doctrine 
so obviously untenable is to try to uncover the affirmation of faith in 

200 Judaism and Modern Man 

Darwinism; it may be organic and vitalistic, as with Bergson; it may 
be logico-dialectical, as with Hegel (who has his naturalistic aspects) 
and Marx; it may even be naively rationalistic, as with some of the 
eighteenth-century philosophes. It may proceed harmoniously or 
through conflict, gradually or by way of suddea "revolution." Through 
all variations, however, the upshot remains the same: history is self- 
redemptive, history is salvation. It possesses within itself the power 
to solve every problem and answer every question; given time, there 
is nothing it cannot accomplish. Spencer is not very popular these 
days; he is felt to be somehow too crass and crude, too self-assured in 
his sweeping assertions. And yet it is Spencer who has formulated the 
doctrine of redemption through progress with a conviction and force 
that remain unparalleled, and it is to Spencer that we must turn if 
we want to get an idea of what the gospel of progress really affirms. 

Progress [writes the English philosopher! is not an accident but 
a necessity. The modifications mankind have undergone and are 
still undergoing result from a law underlying the whole organic 
creation, and, provided the human race continues and the con- 
stitution of things remains the same, those modifications must 
end in completeness ... As surely as there is any efficacy in edu- 
cational culture or any meaning in such terms as habit, custom, 
practice, ... so surely must things we call evil and immorality 
disappear; so surely must man become perfect. 17 

Does this sound incredibly naive, hopelessly mid-Victorian? Then 
listen to John Dewey, the dean of contemporary American philoso- 
phers and the honored spokesman of what regards itself as ultramodern 
naturalism. "Life," Dewey tells us, "travels upward in spirals. 18 . . . 
Social intelligence has found itself after millions of years of errancy as 
a method and it will not be lost forever in the darkness of night." 19 
Is this so very different from Spencer? "Life," we are assured by both 
alike, "travels upward." Both see the past as hopelessly benighted 
"millions of years of errancy" is Dewey's sweeping phrase and our 
own time, the past three or four centuries, as the new age of enlighten- 
ment. Both see human reason, aided by more automatic forces, as the 
operative power in progress: "social intelligence," Dewey calls it; 
"educational culture" is Spencer's term. The only difference is that 
Spencer, writing in the full flush of mid-nineteenth-century optimism, 
knew nothing of the "darkness of night" to come. But although Dewey 

Religion and Society 201 

knows it indeed, it was in the very midst of it that he composed the 
books from which I have quoted (1935, 1940) it really means noth- 
ing to him so far as his philosophy is concerned. The resurgence of 
demonic evil in this century he sees simply as a passing event, a futile 
attempt to "set the clock back;" our enlightenment, he assures us, "will 
not be lost forever in the darkness of night." Why not? Obviously, 
since Dewey would not appeal to God, it must be because he has an 
unshakable faith in the redemptive power of history, exactly as Spencer 
has. Progress may meet its setbacks on occasion, but these are at 
worst only turns of the spiral; the real and decisive movement is ever 
upward and onward, toward "completeness" and "perfection." That 
stage may be far off indeed, it may, strictly speaking, never be quite 
attainable but, apart from a few temporary reverses here and there, 
we are constantly approaching nearer to it. Such is the normative 
doctrine of progress; it may be held wholeheartedly or with reserva- 
tions and modifications, but as long as it is held at all, the central 
affirmation remains untouched: history is salvation. 

It would be rather pointless in this day and age to attempt a de- 
tailed refutation of this conception. The events of the past generation 
have thoroughly discredited it, and its basic presuppositions have been 
challenged by the most significant thinkers of our time. "We delude 
ourselves," Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. concludes, "when we think 
that history teaches us that evil will be 'outmoded' by progress . . . 
[This] is to misconceive and grotestquely to sentimentalize the nature 
of history. For history is not a redeemer, promising to solve all human 
problems; nor is man capable of transcending the limitations of his 
being. Man generally is entangled in insoluble problems; history is 
consequently a tragedy in which we are all involved, whose keynote 
is anxiety and frustration, not progress and fulfilment " 20 With this 
judgment we can certainly agree. We need not deny that there has 
been notable progress made in various fields of human life and in 
various periods of human history, or that we always stand under the 
obligation to enhance human welfare on all fronts But we must chal- 
lenge any doctrine that transforms progress into a cosmic force capable 
of redeeming mankind and completing the meaning of history. 

Much more important than engaging in a polemic with a doctrine 
so obviously untenable is to try to uncover the affirmation of faith in 

202 Judaism and Modern Man 

which it is grounded. This faith is faith in man, in his goodness, his 
omnipotence, his perfectibility. It is because man is held to be in- 
nately good that evil is written off as essentially superficial, the pro- 
duct of ignorance and bad institutions, and human perfection is hailed 
as a possibility or near-possibility within history. It is because man is 
held to be his own master in the universe that no limit is set to the 
"progress" which, in his virtue and intelligence, he is capable of attain- 
ing. Thus, at the heart of the gospel of progress we find the self-idoliz- 
ing cult of man. Dewey himself is quite clear as to what is involved. 
"The question," he writes, "[is] whether there are adequate grounds 
for faith in the potentialities of human nature and whether they can 
be accompanied by the intensity and ardor once awakened by reli- 
gious ideas upon a theological basis . . . The word faith is intentionally 
used." 21 To this we can but answer in the words of the Prophet: 
"Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm of 
strength. . . . Blessed is the man who trust in the Lord. . . . [For] the 
heart [of man] is treacherous above all things and desperately sick 
who can understand it?" (Jer. 17: 5, 7, 9). These words may not 
flatter human pride but they are far truer to the realities of life and 
history than the delusive self -worship of man. 

Like all forms of idolatry, the self-idolizing cult of man at the heart 
of the doctrine of progess leads to confusion of mind and to an intel- 
lectual blindness that obscures the most obvious facts of life. What 
Louis Jaffe says of the late Justice Brandeis will serve to indicate the 
effects of this doctrine upon even the most intelligent of liberals: "He 
moved with such assurance in the realms of light that darkness had 
ceased to him to be a living reality. The demonic depths and vast 
violence of men's souls were part of the historical past rather than 
the smouldering basis of the present. . . . Nothing in his system pre- 
pared Brandeis for Hitler." 22 Nothing in the system of the devotee 
of the cult of progress and the faith in the simple rationality and 
goodness of man prepares him for anything history may bring. 

If the this-worldly, naturalistic interpretation of history linked with 
the cult of progress is delusive in its optimism, naturalism stripped of 
its faith in progress becomes positively demonic. By a compulsive 
inner logic, it leads to a self-destructive adoration of the "wave of the 
future," of history as blind omnipotence that recks not of man or his 

Religion and Society 203 

works. This view, paradoxically enough, also reflects the self-worship 
of man as ultimate in the universe, only it is no longer the good in 
man that is absolutized and deified but the demonic power in him. 
The old-line "liberal" of the type of Spencer or Dewey sees man as 
unlimited in his capacity for goodness and rationality, and is there- 
fore content to rest confidently in the expectation of what human 
progress will bring. The naturalists of more recent time see man as a 
being moved by obscure, nonrational forces that drive him into those 
terrible conflicts that make up the content of history; they, on their 
part, confront history either by identifying themselves with its ruth- 
less power, by prostrating themselves in masochistic submission, or 
else by striking a pose of stoic endurance 1M But they, no less than the 
optimists, are caught in the vicious circle of human self-absolutization; 
it is a blind alley from which naturalism in none of its forms can escape. 

The otherworldly idealism that stands at the opposite pole in the 
interpretation of history is much older than naturalistic this-worldli- 
ness. It has dominated much of the religion and philosophy of man- 
kind. In its basic affirmation, it denies the naturalistic premise that 
history is self-revealing and self-redeeming simply because it denies 
that there is any meaning or true reality to history at all. 

We need not here repeat what was said above about the antihistori- 
cal orientation of Greek and Oriental spirituality and of idealistic 
philosophy in all its varieties. The actual world of events indeed, 
everything that is involved in time is regarded either as unreal, a 
mist of illusion, or else as hopelessly caught in an endless cycle of re- 
currence that leads nowhere. In either case, history, and life in the 
context of history, can yield no meaning. If human life is to have any 
significance at all, it must be sought outside of history, outside the 
dimension of time and change. "Both m thought and in feeling, even 
though time be real, to realize the unimportance of time," that strange 
Platonic "naturalist," Bertrand Russell, teaches us, "is the gate of 
wisdom." 21 

The realm of meaning for idealism is thus to be found in the eternal 
and immutable. This may be conceived as the Ultimate or All-Soul 
of Hindu mysticism, as the archetypal Ideas of Plato, as the "spirit- 
heaven" of a certain type of Jewish and Christian theology, or as the 

204 Judaism and Modern Man 

ideal realities and values of Western philosophy. To enjoy the ideal 
in mystic union or philosophic contemplation, and, for the more active 
idealists at least, also to serve it, is held to be the ultimate aim of exist- 
ence and the only meaning life is capable of yielding. The modern 
idealist, who see his highest hopes and most cherished enterprises go 
shipwreck in the course of history, is able to sustain himself by the 
conviction that really it does not matter what history does to one's 
ideals; it is the ideals themselves that count. This is not the same as 
believing that history will come out all right in the end, for to the 
genuine idealist, it is fidelity to his ideals as eternal truths and not 
what history may or may not bring that gives meaning to life. History 
may never bring anything but confusion and chaos, yet truth and 
beauty and justice remain unaffected as the ultimate realities of exist- 
ence. Serving and enjoying them is its own reward. 

This is a noble faith by human standards. It is the faith that sus- 
tained Socrates and Plato and the best of the Stoics. It is the faith 
that sustained some of the finest men and women in recent centuries, 
who did their duty like sentinels at the post even though the whole 
world was being overwhelmed with darkness. It is a faith that ap- 
peals with particular force to men dedicated to philosophy, science, 
art, or social service. 

It is a noble faith and at first sight it seems to be indistinguishable 
from the selfless service to God and fellow-man that is the highest 
law of Hebraic religion. Is it not virtually identical with the celebrated 
rabbinical injunction attributed to Antigonos of Socho: "Be not like 
servants who serve the master on condition of receiving a reward, but 
be like servants who serve the master without thought of reward?" 25 
Almost identical yet worlds apart! It is this disparity, at first sight 
hardly discernible, which provides the basis for a criticism of the 
idealist attitude to life and history. 

Let us note that when the idealist serves his ideals, it is these ideals 
he is serving, not God, not even his fellow-men, except incidentally. 
The idealist's attitude to the world, insofar as it is consistent and true 
to itself, is negative and impersonal. The actual world is written off 
as worthless. It does not matter what history may bring, says the ideal- 
ist proudly, I will pursue truth, cherish beauty, fulfil my obligations. 
// does not matter what history may bring: in other words, it does not 

Religion and Society 205 

matter what happens to men! The idealist may, of course, regret the 
disasters of history, he may even be heartbroken at the sufferings of 
men, because, after all, he is human, and subject to the affections of 
men. But these are weaknesses, and, ultimately, unrealities. The one 
true reality is the timeless ideal, and the true meaning of life is single- 
minded devotion to it. No idealist today is likely to be so ascetic in 
his faith, because all of us today are more or less touched with the 
personalism of Hebraic spirituality, yet the celebrated Stoic maxim, 
"Let justice triumph though the heavens fair (i.e., though mankind 
is destroyed), ought to give us some notion of what idealism in its 
pure form really implies. 26 

The fact of the matter is that the true idealist, even when he is serv- 
ing man, sees not man but the ideal. Idealism knows nothing of the 
I-Thou communion of love; it knows nothing of persons. And if it 
does not see man, it sees God even less. Antigonos of Socho spoke of 
serving "the master," but what can the idealist say? True, the Stoics 
referred vaguely to some sort of pantheistic "Zeus," but that was 
hardly more than a figure of speech. Neither Plato nor the modern 
idealists can speak of anything but ideas, which, no matter how you 
objectify them, remain ideas, not persons. Personality is a category 
completely absent from the idealist view of things, and where per- 
sonality is gone, there can be no true love of God or man, All that 
remains is self-love. 

For the idealism we have described, whatever its forms, ends up, 
like naturalism, in a self-idolizing cult. It is "the best in man" that 
is absolutized and taken as the ideal to be worshiped and served. We 
have already seen what that means. Should we forget, the Stoics, with 
their self-righteousness, their spiritual arrogance, their cold-blooded 
equanimity and their ruthless devotion to their precious ideals, would 
be enough to remind us. 

But there is another distinction that is perhaps even more funda- 
mental. Antigonos of Socho warns against serving God for reward 
but he does not doubt for a moment that God has a purpose with the 
world and that man's actions in history can somehow contribute to 
the advancement of that purpose. Nor must we take him as denying 
that reward does await the man who serves God, insofar as he serves 
God. The reality of actual life and its fulfilment are thus his presup- 

206 Judaism and Modern Man 

position. But to the true idealist, this presupposition must seem mere 
foolishness, since nothing, as Fichte puts it, can be expected of the 
historical, neither promise nor meaning. 

I have so far concerned myself almost entirely with idealism as a 
moral affirmation because it is this aspect of idealism that is oper- 
ative today among so many as a principle of meaning in life and 
history. Yet moral idealism is but part of the larger idealistic world- 
view and hardly makes sense apart from it. This larger view, as we 
have noted several times already, is rooted in a matter-mind dualism, 
in which matter is devaluated as evil, intrinsically unreal and im- 
potent, while mind is exalted as spiritual and eternal, the very heart 
of all that is real and good. Man not real, existing man, but the 
reason or spirit, which is the "true" man is credited with unlimited 
capacities of creativity and transcendence in the realm of the timeless. 
Man's thoughts, insofar as he thinks truly, are the thoughts of the 
Absolute Idea that is the ground of all. Man's deeds, insofar as he 
pursues the eternal ideals, are truly divine. In the end, man only too 
easily takes on the dimensions of God. 

The universe of which self-deified man is lord in the pretensions of 
metaphysical idealism is, of course, a timeless universe. In Plato and 
in most Oriental systems, this is quite obvious. But even Hegel, who 
shows such a profound feeling for history and who incorporates many 
seminaturalistic elements in his philosophy, ends up with a universe 
from which temporal relations have been eliminated as part of ulti- 
mate being. History is merely a kind of shadow play of the timeless 
categories of the spirit. Philosophy is, at bottom, a means for de- 
historicizing reality No more than naturalism, which at least tries to 
take time seriously, can idealism, whether of the Greek, Oriental or 
modern variety, serve as the key to the meaning of life and history. 

Most contemporary philosophies of history are neither purely 
naturalistic nor purely idealistic; they are varying combinations of the 
two, with an admixture of a third element, the prophetic-eschatological 
vision of Hebraic religion. Such philosophies try to combine a natural- 
istic concern with time, a cyclical approach, borrowed from the 
Greeks, and the notion of a directed time-movement oriented toward 
a significant future, taken from Scripture. Spengler is one of the few 

Religion and Society 207 

moderns who categorically rejects eschatology: his succession of "cul- 
tures," arising, maturing and dying like organisms, has no direction 
or purpose. Yet even Spengler permits himself an attitude of stoic 
contempt for the decadence of contemporary civilization and a glim- 
mer of hope at the heroic virtues that the early stages of the next 
cycle of culture will bring. Sorokin's two-phase sequence of ideational 
and sensate culture is saved from endless circularity by his recent 
gospel of mass salvation through the cultivation of "altruism." 27 
Toynbee's earlier views were rather naturalistic in spirit and entirely 
cyclical in general conception; his mature thought, however, is an im- 
pressive effort to combine a carefully worked out cyclical pattern of 
civilizations with a rectilinear movement of religious or spiritual 
progress. "Religion," he says, "is, after all, the serious business of 
the human race," and it is the advancement of religion that the move- 
ment of history serves. But this view, too, cannot be regarded as 
ultimately satisfactory, for it denies history any intrinsic meaning 
whatever and grants it significance only insofar as it serves something 
outside of itself "religion" which Toynbee conceives in rather ec- 
clesiastical-mystical sense. "Our. . . .precept, in studying history 
as a whole," he tells us, "should be to relegate economic and po- 
litical history to a subordinate place and give religious history the 
primacy." 28 But in Scripture, there is no religious history in the 
proper sense at all that is, there is no particular concern with the 
history of religious doctrines, institutions or practices as if they had 
some special primacy. The history with which the prophets are con- 
cerned is precisely the economic and political and military history of 
their time, which for them is real history, as real and important as 
anything can be. Their way of relating "religion" to history is to try 
to reveal the divine purpose in the very worldly history with which 
they deal. And this they do not only by indicating the partial judg- 
ments and fulfilments that occur within history but also by pointing 
to the eschaton, to the "end-time," in which history itself will be re- 
deemed and its full meaning revealed in a great act of final judgment 
and fulfilment. But with such eschatology Toynbee shows little real 

The true eschatological passion through the nineteenth century and 
well into our own times burned not in the thinkers who proclaimed 

208 Judaism and Modern Man 

themselves Jewish or Christian, but in such official enemies of "re- 
ligion" as Marx and Nietzsche. Their thought was permeated with 
the prophetic feeling of urgency and futurity, although the gospels 
they proclaimed were often demonic and the systems they laid down 
riddled with many of the vices and fallacies of their time. In most 
modern thinkers of the more conventional sort, the Hebraic eschato- 
logical element makes its appearance indirectly in a truncated and 
secularized form as the notion of progress. It is this notion of progress, 
whether conceived as inevitable or merely possible, that separates 
the modern thought of the West from the thought of all other times 
and peoples, the Hebrews alone excepted. As the ultimate principle 
of history, it is, as we have seen, utterly untenable, but it is not there- 
fore to be discarded as worthless, any more than is the corrupted 
eschatology of Marx and Nietzsche. If we are to disengage the genuine 
element in these conceptions as well as to retrieve what is valid in 
idealism, we must understand and appropriate the authentic concept 
of Hebraic eschatology. 


1. N. Berdyaev, The Meaning of History (Geoffrey files: London, 1934), 
p. 28. 

2. M. R. Cohen, The Meaning of Human History (Open Court: La Salle, 
111., 1947), p. 9. Cohen is here referring specifically to the Chinese. 

3. "When a cultivated Hindu reads of Israel's exodus from Egypt, he is 
apt to see in it only an allegory of the soul's separation from God. When 
I once urged on the Hindu philosopher Ramanathan that Dante, who 
recognized such an allegoric interpretation, also believed in the reality 
of the temporal event, I was rebuked by the remark that the eternal 
spiritual meaning is the only one worthy of serious attention, that only 
the carnal-minded are preoccupied with temporal events (Cohen, op. cit., 
pp. 9-10). 

4. "tin Greek thought], the temporal course of events was always treated 
as something merely secondary in which there was no real metaphysical 
interest. At the same time, Greek thought regarded not only the indi- 
vidual human being but also the whole human race, with all its destinies, 

Religion and Society 209 

deeds and sufferings, as an episode, as a passing, transitory, particular 
phenomenon, of the cyclic world process, which takes place eternally ac- 
cording to the same laws. The question of a meaning for the history of 
humanity as a whole, a systematic plan behind the course of historical 
development, was never raised as such; still less did it occur to any of 
the ancient thinkers to regard this as the real nature of the world" (W. 
Windelband, Lehrbuch der Geschichte der Philosophic [Fisher: Freiburg, 
Germany, 1892], p. 212). 

5. Greek thought viewed reality, including history, as nature involved 
in the cosmic process, and "where reality is viewed as nature, it is governed 
by the symbol of the circle that returns upon itself. . .On this basis, true 
historical thinking is impossible. . .Consequently, [for the Greeks], there 
is no view of the world as history, even though there is no lack of his- 
toriography as a report of the confusion of human movements and as an 
example for politicians" (Paul Tillich, The Interpretation of History 
[Scnbner's: New York, 1936], p. 244). 

6. Hermann Cohen, Die Religion der Vernunft aus den Quellen dts 
Judentums (Kaufmann: Frankfort a. M., 1929), p. 307. 

7. "The Hebrew Prophets are the first philosophers of history because 
they apprehend events as a significant whole, determined and fashioned 
by the eternal creative principle which,while transcending them, is active 
within them." Harold Knight, The Hebrew Phophetic Consciousness (Lut- 
terworth: London, 1947), p. 162. 

8. J. P. Hyatt, Prophetic Religion (Abmgdon-Cokesbury: Nashville, 
Tenn., 1947), p. 76. 

"For the Hindu, the historical is the illusory; for the Greek, it is the 
incidental, the evanescent, for the Hebrew, it is that which is real." 
William Robinson, Whither Theology (Lutterworth: London, 1947), p. 

9. "It was indeed from the Prophets and their successors, the apocalyp- 
tists, that the very conception of the unity of history was derived." H. 
Wheeler Robinson, Inspiration and Revelation in the Old Testament 
(Clarendon: Oxford, 1946), p. 197. 

10. Hyatt, op cit. % p 89. 

11. Eccles. 1:9; "That which has been is that which shall be, and that 
which has been done is that which shall be done; and there is nothing 
new under the sun." 

12. Karl Lowith, Meaning in History (University of Chicago: Chicago, 
1949), p. 17. 

13. S. W. Baron, "The Historical Outlook of Maimonides," Proceedings 
of the American Academy for Jewish Research, VI (1934-35), 7. 

14. Thomas Aquinas, in accord with the whole scholastic outlook, tended 
to resolve history into the nontemporal. According to him, "all events 
which have happened, which are happening or which ever will happen 

210 Judaism and Modern Man 

are caused by the same timeless act." Robert L. Patterson, The Conception 
of God in the Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas (Allen and Unwin: Lon- 
don, 1933), p. 144. 

15. Lowith, op. cit., p. 160. 

16. "It is Jewish-Christian futurism which opened the future as the dy- 
namic of all modern striving and thinking." Lowith, op. cit., p. 111. 

17. Herbert Spencer, Social Statics (Appleton: New York, 1865), p. 80. 

18. This is Dewey's motto for his Living Thoughts of Thomas Jefferson. 
(Longmans: New York 1940). 

19. John Dewey, Liberalism and Social Action (Putnam's: New York, 
1935), p. 93. 

20. A. M. Schlesinger, Jr., "The Causes of the Civil War: A Note on 
Historical Sentimentalism," Partisan Review, Vol. XVI (October, 1949), 
No. 10. 

21. Dewey, Freedom and Culture (Putnam's: New York, 1939), p. 126. 

22. Quoted in A. M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Vital Center (Houghton, 
Mifflm: Boston, 1949), pp. 162-3. 

23. The first attitude self-identification with the ruthless power of na- 
ture is exemplified by Hitler and the Nazi leaders generally. "The 
fundamental basis of Hitler's Mem Kampf" writes Hans Kohn, "is an 
interpretation of man according to which he is purely a natural being, 
biologically determined, and inescapably subject to the 'iron logic of 
nature,' which he has to obey as animals do if he wishes to preserve or 
increase his strength and to be true to his 'nature ' " The Twentieth Cen- 
tury (Macmillan: New York, 1949), p. 165. The second attitude 
masochistic submission is typical of the totalitarian mass-man, who 
"needs someone to give him orders" and who cannot live without feeling 
the "Party thong" on his back. A. M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Vital Center 
pp. 54-56. The third attitude stoic endurance is, at its best, exemplified 
by Jakob Burckhardt, who, in the middle of the last century, saw civiliza- 
tion about to be overwhelmed by a new wave of barbarism but felt that 
there was nothing that could be done but to endure. See J. H. Nichols' 
introductory essay in J. Burckhardt, Force and Freedom: Reflections on 
History (Pantheon: New York, 1943). With Burckhardt, however, this 
attitude was no mere pose but was deeply felt and lived. Freud viewed 
what he considered the illusions and follies of mankind with the weary, 
understanding eye of the physician, but he, too, harbored the optimistic 
faith that in the end, progress would dissipate these illusions and complete 
the rational perfection of man. The Future of an Illusion (Livenght. 
New York, 1928), pp. 92-98. 

24. Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic (Norton: New York, 1929), 
pp. 21-22. 

25. M. Abot 1.3. 

26. The difference in temper between the impersonal rigorism of idealist 
ethics and the personalist ethic of rabbinic tradition is strikingly illus- 

Religion and Society 211 

trated by comparing Kant's absolute prohibition of telling an untruth, 
even where it may prevent a murder ("On a Supposed Right to Lie from 
Altruistic Motives," Critique of Practical Reason and Other Writings in 
Moral Philosophy, ed. by L. W. Beck [University of Chicago: Chicago, 
1949], pp. 346-50), with the view of Rabbi: "All kinds of lies are pro- 
hibited, but one may make a false statement in order to make peace be- 
tween a man and his neighbor" (Tosefta Derek Eretz, Perek Shalom 5, 
ed. Rigger, pp. 88, 253-54). 

27. See Pitirim A. Sorokin, The Reconstruction of Humanity (Beacon: 
Boston, 1948). 

28. Arnold J. Toynbee, "The Unification of the World," Civilization on 
Trial (Oxford- New York, 1948), p. 94. See also the final essay, "Chris- 
tianity and Civilization." 



As seen from the standpoint of Hebraic religion, history is neither 
self-subsistent nor self -revealing: it is but the middle phase of a three- 
phase process, and can be understood only in terms of a "beginning" 
and an "end," which are themselves not history but without which 
history would have no meaning. This "beginning" and "end" enter 
into history at every point and constitute the ultimate frame of refer- 
ence within which it is to be interpreted. 

The biblical account of the scheme of human destiny represents 
it as a temporal process with creation and the paradisal state at the 
beginning and redemption in the Kingdom of God at the end. In be- 
tween is history, which despite its bewildering variety exhibits a single- 
ness of pattern that makes it one. What the biblical narrative tells us 
may, and indeed must, be understood also in its existential, contempo- 
raneous sense. History, individual and collective, as it takes place 
now, insistently points backward to a "prelude" and forward to a 
"postlude" without which it cannot lay claim to reality or significance. 
Every aspect of history, as well as history as a whole, acquires its 
meaning from its place in this total pattern. 

212 Judaism and Modern Man 

The primal life in Paradise, according to the biblical picture, images 
the order of creation what man is created as and for. This includes 
his existence as creature and person, and therefore his need for per- 
sonal self -maintenance in loving obedience to God; his heterosexuality 
("Male and female created he them. . ." [Gen. 1:27]), and thus 
the need for sexual union and companionship; and finally, his indi- 
vidual incompleteness and responsive "outgoingness" ("It is not good 
for man to be alone. . . [Gen. 2:18]), and therefore the need for com- 
munity. But how these needs and aspects of man's essential nature 
are to be met, what the concrete and particular institutions through 
which they are implemented are to be, that is not in itself part of the 
eternal order of creation; it is the product of history and subject to all 
the contingencies and vicissitudes of the historical order. Marriage 
as such is part of the order of creation, but not any particular form 
of marriage. Community is part of the essential nature of man, but 
no particular structure of society is given in the scheme of creation. 
They are for man himself to work out within the relativities of history. 

The "prelude" to history comes to an end with man's fall and ex- 
pulsion from Paradise. History in the specific sense emerges only 
when man violates his essential nature and upsets the normative pat- 
tern of life through sin. In the biblical account, the first historical 
event is, significantly enough, Cain's murder of his brother Abel 
(Gen. 4:1-16). History is thus the concrete working out of man's 
sinful existence in collective life and reflects the radical ambiguity of 
that existence. 

Basically, history reflects the fact that man is forever driven forward 
to self-transcending creative effort to give concrete embodiment to 
the order of creation and yet at the same time is forever tempted to 
make every enterprise of his a vehicle for the assertion of self. If the 
murder of Abel is the opening event in history according to Scripture, 
let us remember that in the biblical account Cain comes forward sin- 
cerely to sacrifice to God, and only in the chagrin of wounded pride 
does his pious act become an occasion to crime. No matter where 
we look or how far back we go, we find man engaged in great enter- 
prises and we find him motivated by that passionate urge to self-ag- 
grandizement that we have learned to know as the "evil impulse" 

Religion and Society 213 

(yetzer ha-rd). So impelled, he creates technology, brings forth in- 
stitutions, establishes civilizations and engages in all that is character- 
istic of social life. "Were it not for the evil impulse," a profound 
rabbinic comment teaches us, "man would not build a house or take 
a wife or beget a child or engage in business, as it is said: 'All labor 
and work comes of a man's rivalry with his neighbor'." 1 Self-interest 
does not create society; the need and basis for that are given in cre- 
ation. But within the order of creation, it is self-interest that supplies 
the movement of history. 

But never self-interest simply as such. Man in his enterprises can 
never rest in the immediate. He builds a house, yet it is not merely 
a house he builds but a city and a nation with its laws and its loyal- 
ties. He takes a wife and begets children, but in doing this he does 
more: he establishes the family which soon becomes something greater 
than himself. He "engages in business," but that involves him in de- 
velopment of a vast structure of institutions that regulate his life. And 
beyond house and family and business, or rather in and through them, 
he creates culture poetry, science, art, philosophy, religion. He es- 
tablishes law and justice. He sets up states and systems of states, 
makes war and peace, launches empires and plans Utopias. Behind 
it all is the push of the self but it is the self extended, transformed, 
universalized. Every striving of the self is taken up into some larger 
concern in which the self is both expressed and overcome. The family 
includes but is more than its members, and the national state is never 
merely a handy instrument for its citizens to use in aggrandizing them- 
selves. New interests and values emerge that transcend the narrow 
confines of the self, yet which the self is eager to recognize and serve 
since it is thereby, after all, serving itself. For paradoxically, it is pre- 
cisely in these larger concerns that the self somehow finds itself again. 

Man's creative work in history is thus complex and multidimen- 
sional. We pursue our interests and then, on another level, transcend 
them in ideals and higher loyalties. But this transcendence is itself 
neither complete nor final, for at the heart of our ideals we find the 
self again, acknowledging them indeed but ready to utilize them for 
its own glorification and advantage. Does not family devotion, which 
so transcends and absorbs the individual self-interest of its members, 

214 Judaism and Modern Man 

become in its turn an instrument of self-assertion on a higher level? 
Does not the solidarity of kinship easily pass over into the demonic 
force of racial pride, and the fellowship of national community be- 
come an aggressive nationalism? Do not even philosophies and re- 
ligions serve for the mobilization of interests in which the self and 
what is beyond self are compounded past all possibility of discrimina- 
tion? In everything man does, he strives to embody his ideals: that 
is the imperative of his essential nature given in creation. In every- 
thing he does, he strives to exalt the self: that is the compulsive of 
sin. Together they go to make up the movement of history. History 
is thus the implementation of the order of creation through social ac- 
tivities and institutions, but in such an ambiguous way that the order 
of creation is thereby both effectuated and thwarted, both realized 
and perverted. 

From another point of view, history may be interpreted as the effort 
of men to build structures of security for themselves through the col- 
lective enterprises that constitute social life. In this respect, history 
is but the extension of individual existence. In both alike, in history 
and in individual life, security is never something static. Man is never 
content with what he has done; he has no sooner accomplished any- 
thing than he finds it inadequate. Why? Because no finite achieve- 
ment can guarantee him any real security in the encirclement of 
self-centered existence. Self-centeredness converts every human being 
into an autonomous power arrayed against the world, uneasily con- 
cerned over the aggressions of others and desperately intent upon 
countering them with aggressions of one's own. The endeavor to 
achieve security thus becomes an endless struggle for differential ad- 
vantage and preponderant power. The collective structures of society 
and even the ideal constructions of the mind become so many citadels 
to which the anxious self retires and from which it draws a sense 
of integrity and power. Institutions, interests and ideas with which 
we are identified are invested with inordinate significance and are 
converted into exclusive fixations, which, while they may unite us 
with some, bring us into conflict with others of our fellow-men. Thus 
arise the various groups, classes and alignments, whose interaction 
forms so much of the substance of history. They are all, or almost 

Religion and Society 215 

all, rooted in the necessary coherences of social life but they inevitably 
become vehicles for the exorbitant claims of those whose interests they 
serve. Family, race, party, nation, economic groups as well as social 
and spiritual movements are thus turned into instruments in the cease- 
less struggle for security and power. Society is fragmented and man- 
kind is divided against itself. All history is indeed the history of "class 
struggles" if by "class" we mean not simply the economic units which 
Marx had in mind but all the various and multiform groupings in 
which men enter in order to maintain themselves in a world that has 
lost its divine center. 

The interests and loyalties that define our position in society in 
large measure define also the point of view from which we see things 
and the judgments through which we evaluate them. Self-centered- 
ness has its effects, intellectual as well as moral. Each particular form 
of property, Marx says, generates "an entire superstructure of various 
and peculiarly formed sentiments, modes of thought and views of 
life." 2 Marx was wrong only in limiting the ideology-generating in- 
terests to the economic. The taint of ideology clings to all the activities 
of men in history. Every interest, every institution, every ideal even, 
because it is utilized in the struggle for security and power, distorts 
our vision and makes us see things in a way that will justify our 
claims and promote our purposes. The teachings of Marx and Freud, 
reinforced by the events of the past three decades, have made us all 
familiar with the notions of ideology and rationalization, but it would 
be well to realize that in these phenomena we have manifestations of 
the corruption of sin. It is sin self-centeredness that divides man 
against himself and turns him against his neighbor; it is sin that re- 
quires the elaborate structures of deception and self-deception that 
we develop to protect our self-seeking special interests. 

But this is only one side of the picture. If ideology and rationaliza- 
tion are to serve their purpose in validating our pretensions to our- 
selves and to others, they must make their case in terms of universal 
principles above the self-interest of individual or group. We are, 
therefore, back to the other side of the human ambivalence: self- 
interest cannot be pursued simply as such; it must be taken up in some 
ideal or principle that transcends the self and yet at the same time 

216 Judaism and Modern Man 

serves to justify the self in its self-interest. This dialectic of sinful ex- 
istence, the operations of which we have traced in individual life, per- 
vades the entire texture of history. 

We take another text from Marx, whose "materialist" dogma hides 
profound insights into the meaning of history: "Man makes his own 
history, but he does not make it out of the whole cloth; he does not 
make it out of conditions chosen by himself, but out of such as he finds 
at hand." 3 

Human freedom is the creative power of history. History is the 
sphere of decision. It is never merely the outworking of a biologic 
pattern determined by natural need; animals, too, struggle to survive 
but they have no history. It is when natural need is compounded with 
freedom, when the fixed patterns of nature are lost in the indeter- 
minate possibilites of spirit, that genuine history emerges. The ap- 
preciation of this transcendent dimension of the historical movement 
is the first prerequisite for a serious understanding of history. 4 

But human freedom in history, while it is incalculable, is not in- 
finite: man is not God. It is conditioned first by nature and then by 
society, or rather by a complex of factors in which both are fused. 
Man the real individual human being, not the abstraction is born 
into a given situation, into a system of social forces, institutions, 
customs and traditions, that set definite limits to his freedom and 
creativity. It is within these limits that his existential decisions must 
be made. 

This sounds like a platitude, yet it raises some of the most profound 
questions about the nature of history. Why is it that, as we have noted 
more than once, man in actual life is confronted not so much with a 
choice between absolute good and absolute evil as with a choice among 
courses of action, all of which are to some degree infected with evil? 
Here is a man who wants to live by the divine law, the law of love. 
His country is at war. He is tending to his fields when suddenly he 
sees an enemy aviator on a mission to destroy his town. He has the 
opportunity of saving his town, but he can do so only by killing the 
airman. What shall he do? Taking the life of a fellow-man, even of 
an enemy at war, is surely no exemplification of the law of love. But 
neither is letting the enemy airman go on to destroy the town and its 

Religion and Society 217 

inhabitants. There are, in the situation, but two courses open to him 
and each of them is a violation of the law of love. Something he must 
do inaction is also action and he will no doubt do what seems to 
him to be the lesser evil under the circumstances, as judged from the 
point of view of the absolute imperative of the divine law. We are 
not here concerned with which of the two courses open to him he 
chooses or how he justifies his choice. What we are concerned with 
is the question: Why is it that he is compelled to violate the divine 
law? The compulsive factors are obviously not of the natural order; 
it is not any physical fact or natural power that prevents him from 
fulfilling the law he recognizes as binding. What, then, is it that has 
reduced his freedom to the point where no matter what he does he 
will involve himself in responsibility for the death of his fellow-men? 
The compulsive factor here is nothing short of the entire course of 
human history as that has culminated in the contemporary situation, 
in the "conditions at hand." The actions and decisions of men do not 
disappear with the generation that initiates them. No; the actions 
and decisions of men enter into the stream of history and live on in 
their consequences. No man faces the world as if it had just left the 
hand of the Creator. Each of us is caught up in a world that has been 
"spoiled" by sin, that has been overlaid and deformed by the sinful 
activities of men through the ages. If we really wanted to find out 
why it is that our farmer has no choice but to involve himself one 
way or another in responsibility for the death of his fellow-men, we 
would have to go back at least to the Thirty Years' War and trace 
the development of European and world history through the past three 

The story of the farmer is a parable of the plight of the individual 
in history. We, who have just fought two world wars and are now 
facing a third, ought surely to recognize that. In every situation with 
which life confronts us, we are called upon to choose, to decide, 
under judgment of God, but we can choose only within the narrow 
confines permitted us by history. We are all caught in the solidarity 
of sin. Nothing could be more false to the facts of life or to the in- 
sights of biblical religion than the ultraindividualistic notion that sin 
begins and ends with the individual person who commits it. The sins 
of men coagulate into a vast collective deposit that permeates the 

218 Judaism and Modern Man 

structures, institutions and attitudes of society at every level of life. 
What men have done at other times and places, what men do else- 
where in our own time, what we ourselves have done in the past, enter 
into the conditions that compel us to take life, to live by exploitation, 
to eat while others go hungry just as what we do now adds to the 
burden of sin that will beset the men of time to come and cruelly re- 
strict their freedom of action. So subtly and yet so inescapably are 
we bound together by the fabric of our social humanity. 

What I have been suggesting is said with shattering power in the 
Scriptural pronouncement that has caused so much scandal to men 
with a fine sense of individual moral responsibility: "The Lord visits 
the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children 
unto the third and fourth generations" (Exod. 20:5, 34:7; Num. 
14:18; Deut. 5:9). We can now feel the force of this statement. 
The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children not merely in 
the sense that one generation has to bear the consequences of the 
deeds of another "Our fathers have sinned. . .and we have borne 
their iniquities" (Lam. 5:7) but in the far more important sense 
that the sins of the fathers create a situation in which the children, 
too, do evil, if only because, in the concrete circumstances, no course 
of action is open to them that is not to some degree infected with it. 
There is no escaping the solidarity of sin because there is no escaping 
the solidarity of mankind. 

The far-reaching power of sin through its embodiment in the struc- 
tures and institutions of society is a basic aspect of the influence of 
the past upon the present that makes for the continuity of history. 
It accounts for the plight in which men find themselves at any point 
in the course of events, but it does not relieve them of responsibility 
for their actions. Here Jeremiah and Ezekiel, who laid such stress 
upon individual responsibility, are right: "Every one shall die for his 
own iniquity; every one that eats the sour grape, his teeth shall be 
set on edge" (Jer. 31:29-30; cf. Ezek. 18:2-3). Each of us is re- 
sponsible for what he chooses and does. The tragic predicament of 
men in history is that the iniquity which we do and for which we 
are responsible is only too often something we have had to choose 
because the historical situation offered us no course of action that 
was altogether free from evil. 

Religion and Society 219 

Not evil alone, however, but the good that men do lives beyond 
them. "If one man sins," says Marmorstein, explaining the rabbinical 
doctrine of the "solidarity of Israel and the world," "the whole genera- 
tion suffers on account of him. [And] if there is one righteous man, 
the whole world stands for his sake." 5 Every act of justice and lov- 
ingkindness, every action in which the self is transcended for what is 
genuinely (though perhaps not completely) beyond the self, enters 
into the stream of history as a power in its own right. In contrast to 
the effect of sin, the good that men do helps to keep open and even 
to extend the areas of freedom available in social life. Humanitarian 
effort and social reform, sacrificial service to others, the struggle 
against injustice and oppression wherever they show themselves, do 
not merely relieve the distress of those immediately affected; they 
serve also to enlarge the possibilities of life for other men and other 
generations. In this sense, we all live by the grace of God and the 
"merit of the fathers." But the cumulative power of sin in the his- 
torical life of mankind is not thereby dissolved, for self-interest soon 
finds a way of insinuating itself into and exploiting even the most 
idealistic achievements. Is there, then, no way in which this vicious 
circle of sin perpetuating itself from generation to generation in the 
institutions of society can be broken? To answer this question we 
will have to turn back and examine a little more closely the dialectic 
of creativity and sin in history. 

If we read Scripture aright, we cannot fail to note that history is 
there understood as a divine-human encounter in which God calls to 
man, man in his pride defies God, and God in his judgment punishes 
sinful man. A brief glance at what actually happens in history should 
be enough to vindicate the relevance of this insight. 

Human history, as we have seen, may be conceived as a movement 
in which man works to implement the order of creation by devising 
techniques and institutions to meet the needs of life. His creativity 
is therefore in itself by no means evil; indeed, it is through his cre- 
ativity that he becomes a "co-worker with God" in the maintenance 
and reconstruction of the world. In rabbinic literature, man is pic- 
tured as "imitating" the divine power of creation and thus "sharing in 
the divine work". 6 The call of God in every situation is a call to 

220 Judaism and Modern Man 

creativity. But precisely because of its vast potentialities, human 
creativity is always in peril of being converted by the self into an 
instrument of pride and self-aggrandizement. The enterprises we set 
going are wrenched from their proper subordination to God in the 
order of creation, are identified with ourselves, and are then invested 
with a value and significance utterly out of proportion to their real 
place in the scheme of things. A particular status quo in which we 
are interested is held to be essential to the survival of civilization; a 
particular program of reform upon which we have set our hearts 
becomes identical in our minds with the future of mankind. Institu- 
tions arising out of some natural coherence or erected to serve some 
social purpose are exalted beyond their merely relative validity and 
are led to make pretensions to finality and absoluteness. They become 
vested interests, structures of human selfishness and instruments of 
injustice and oppression. As such they fall under the judgment of God. 

We saw in an earlier chapter how this process by which the institu- 
tions of society are perverted to the advantage of those who control 
them operates in economic life. Very much the same is true of the 
"race problem." Distinctions of color, differences of ethnic origin 
and the natural ties of kinship are absolutized and made to serve the 
pride and pretensions of the dominant group at the expense not only 
of the oppressed minorities but of the nation at large. What is par- 
ticularly poignant in these cases and in others that might be mentioned 
is that the process is so unconscious: the advocates of "laissez-faire" 
capitalism and of "white supremacy" are so suie of their disinterested- 
ness, so certain that the views they profess are born out of a concern 
for the general welfare, so unaware of the ideological taint of self- 
interest! And with good reason, for it is usually not the narrow, crude, 
obvious self-interest that is involved but a kind of higher self-interest, 
in which the narrow self is merged into a larger whole through which 
it finds its vicarious expression. But it is not any the less dangerous 
for that. 

This tendency of man to absolutize his works and thereby to abso- 
lutize himself in his collective existence is the source of the demonic 
in history. It is the force that blocks the harmonious development 
of society, that precipitates revolutions and destroys civilizations. 
Toynbee very aptly calls it the "idolization of the ephemeral" and 

Religion and Society 221 

holds it to be the "nemesis of creativity." The term "idolization" he 
uses with careful intent, for it is precisely the tendency toward the 
absolutization of the relative, ultimately self-absolutization, that proves 
so ruinous. "This infatuation is the sin of idolatry," Somervell ex- 
plains in his abridgement of A Study of History. "It may take the 
form of an idolization of the idolater's own personality or society in 
some ephemeral phase. . .; or it may take the limited form of the 
idolization of some particular institution or technique which once 
stood the idolater in good stead. . ." 7 But whether it is the self or 
society or some institution or technique that is thus absolutized, the 
result is the same: creativity is paralyzed; the great achievements of 
the past are transformed into forces of destruction; institutions that 
once served as the forms of development of the historical process now 
turn into its fetters. The entrenched vested interests, who take their 
stand upon the "ephemeral" thus absolutized, raise up their own de- 
stroyers and thus call down upon themselves the judgment of God. 
Society is disrupted from within and without, and all of the calamities 
that accompany war, revolution and the downfall of civilizations over- 
whelm mankind. Historical crisis let us now recall the original 
meaning of "crisis" comes as divine judgment. 

This theme of man's overweening pride and God's chastening judg- 
ment runs through every phase of the prophetic interpretation of 
history. Thus thunders Ezekiel, bringing the word of God against 
the prince of Tyre: "Because you are puffed up with pride and have 
said, 'I am a god, I sit in the seat of the gods,'. . .therefore behold, I 
will bring strangers against you, the most ruthless of nations. . . .You 
were puffed up with pride because of your beauty; you corrupted 
your wisdom by reason of your splendor; therefore I flung you to 
the ground and exposed you for kings to gaze at" (Ezek. 28:2-7, 
17-18). And Isaiah pronounces the doom of Assyria, who, according 
to the Phophet, had been raised by God as the "rod of [his] anger" 
against Israel, in the following words: "Therefore it shall come to 
pass that when the Lord has performed his whole work on Mount 
Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the arrogant heart of the king 
of Assyria and his vainglorious pride. For he [i.e., Assyria] has said: 
'By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for 
I have understanding. . . ' Shall the axe boast over him that hews 

222 Judaism and Modern Man 

therewith, or the saw lord itself over him that plies it? As if a rod 
were to sway the man that wields it, or a staff were to lift up what 
is not wood! Therefore the Lord, the Lord of Hosts, will send a 
wasting sickness into his fat, and under his glory there shall be kindled 
a burning, a burning like the burning of fire" (Isa. 10:5-16). These 
passages point to a characteristic and extremely significant difference 
between the biblical view of the downfall of civilizations and the view 
that has come down to us from Greco-Roman moralism. Whereas 
the latter sees the decline of cultures as due primarily to luxury, dis- 
soluteness and debauchery, the biblical writers trace the destruction 
of kingdoms and civilizations to insolent pride, insatiable greed and 
other manifestations of the self-absolutization of idolatry. 

It is important to note that in the Scriptural view, the divine judg- 
ment under which sinful rulers and nations and institutions fall is 
generally executed through the regular operations of history. The 
proud prince of Tyre was brought low by the neighboring kings; the 
judgment against godless Israel was carried out by the King of Assyria, 
who had no notion that he was serving a divine purpose but who simply 
thought of himself as a great conqueror and the judgment against the 
arrogant Assyrian was, in its turn, to be executed by the Babylonians. 
In the dialectic of history, the judgment of God operates immanently 
through the nemesis that absolutistic pretensions inevitably raise 
against themselves. The agent of divine judgment may be an am- 
bitious king, a rebellious peasantry, an insurgent working class, a 
revolutionary party, a nationalist movement. They do their work to 
serve their own purposes, impelled by their own motives compounded 
of idealism and self-interest; but the work they do executes the judg- 
ment of God upon the tyrant, the exploiter, the oppressor, who has 
forgotten the Lord of history and has exalted himself into the god 
of his own little universe. 

The dialectic we have described is a succession of self-absolutizing 
pretensions and the divine punishment they bring in their wake. But 
the vicious circle of sin continues without abatement, for the instru- 
ment of divine justice today becomes the arrogant pretender of to- 
morrow. I do not mean to imply that great changes cannot come as 
a result of this movement of history: the facts show quite otherwise: 
every execution of the divine judgment at the hands of some historical 

Religion and Society 223 

agent shakes up the rigid structure of society, destroys obsolete insti- 
tutions and wipes out entrenched vested inteiests. But, in the very 
process, new wrongs are brought into being, perhaps even worse than 
the old new injustices, new vested interests, new oppressions. Even 
if one can detect a net gain in some period and I would certainly 
insist that such a positive balance can be drawn in the case of a 
number of great revolutions in history the circle of sin and evil is 
not broken through. Can it be broken through? Is genuine repent- 
ance the only way the vicious circle of sin is broken through in 
individual life a real possibility for collectivities of men, for nations 
and cultures? 

It would, at first glance, seem altogether out of the question. 
Repentance means a "change of heart," an abandonment of all pre- 
tensions to self-sufficiency, a contrite and humble "turning" to the 
divine source of our being. How is that possible for nations and cul- 
tures? They have no real personalities in the sense in which person- 
ality is given in the "image of God." Even the moral resources which 
individual men, for all their sinfulness, are able to muster up seem 
to be out of the reach of collectivities. Collectivities generally func- 
tion at a much lower moral level than the individuals who go to make 
them up. "In every human group," Niebuhr writes, "there is less 
reason to guide and check impulse, less capacity for self -transcendence, 
less ability to comprehend the needs of others and therefore more un- 
restrained egoism, than the individuals who compose the group reveal 
in their personal relationships." 8 Common experience reveals the two 
levels of morality on which men live, the level of personal conduct 
and the level of social life; men who act on behalf of others in a 
collective capacity are generally ready to follow the dictates of cor- 
porate self-interest with a frankness and consistency impossible in 
their private affairs. No one expects a statesman or a trade union 
leader to sacrifice the interests of his people for the sake of other 
groups in the sense in which individuals are expected to place the 
welfare of others on a level with their own. The antithesis, "moral 
man and immoral society," may do too much credit to man but it 
certainly does not misrepresent society. How, then, can we speak 
of repentance in connection with society? 

224 Judaism and Modern Man 

And yet something very like repentance does take place in history. 
The recent determination of the British people to carry through the 
dissolution of the Empire is a case in point. An historical develop- 
ment of such magnitude does not lend itself to simple analysis, but I 
think no one really acquainted with the situation would care to deny 
that behind it all there actually was some sort of "change of heart" on 
the part of the British people, a genuine revulsion of feeling against 
the unsavory record of colonial imperialism. Of course, the changed 
position of Britain in the world had something to do with bringing 
about this momentous decision, yet when all is said and done, it must 
be recognized that Britain has met the challenge of the new situation 
not by die-hard entrenchment and new pretensions but by an im- 
pressive effort to break through the age-old structure of vested inter- 
ests and make a genuine "new beginning." That this strategy may, 
in the long run, strengthen the British position simply means that in 
the collective affairs of mankind, too, there are occasions when the 
wisdom of dying to the old self in order to live to the new proves itself 
even in worldly terms. 

This, I think, is as far as repentance can go for nations and cultures. 
It is very far from being repentance in the profound and transforming 
sense in which we know it in personal life. Yet it does, after all, hold 
out the possibility that the divine judgment over nations may lead to 
reform and renovation rather than to disaster, that old structures and 
institutions may be renewed rather than destroyed by the violence 
of history. Such things do happen, and the British example is only 
the most recent. Peaceful change and the gradual disestablishment of 
privilege are not unknown, and although in every case it is possible 
to discover new forms of self-interest at work, the reality of the 
"change of heart" need not be challenged. 

God's judgment in history, pronounced against the self -absolutizing 
pretensions of men, may thus lead either to repentance or to destruc- 
tion. Is this not what we learn in the Book of Jonah about Nineveh, 
that most wicked of cities? But repentance for classes, nations and 
cultures is no more possible without divine grace than it is for indi- 
viduals. The resources of divine grace in history are generally mediat- 
ed through the works of God-fearing men, whose devoted service to 
their fellows is never without effect. The prophet and saint, the social 

Religion and Society 225 

reformer, the man genuinely concerned with the welfare of his neigh- 
bor, are the great assets of society. They are a leaven that works 
from within and helps dissolve the rigid structures of sinful self-interest 
that burden mankind from age to age. What they accomplish is not 
always visible on the surface, but it constitutes a fund, a treasure, 
upon which their own and subsequent generations may draw. It is 
almost a commonplace that the healthy development of the British 
labor-socialist movement, in comparison with its Continental counter- 
parts, is due, to some extent at least, to the sound moral foundations 
laid by the devout men many of them lay preachers and noncon- 
formist ministers who helped bring it into being. And in our own 
country, can we account for the astonishing development of social- 
welfare legislation in the course of the past fifteen years without men- 
tioning the decades of patient agitation on the part of the dedicated 
men and women who first brought an understanding of social respon- 
sibility to the public mind? The ancient rabbinical doctrine of the 
"merit of the fathers" (zekut abot) 9 according to which the good 
deeds of men in the past constitute a resource of redemption for our 
own time, may thus be seen to possess a far greater relevance to social 
reality than has usually been allowed. 

History, then, is a process of dialectic interaction between the di- 
vine intent in creation and human self-will, or, on another level, be" 
tween the self -transcending creativity of man and the corrupting self- 
interest that always invades it. But that cannot be the whole story, 
for if history were nothing more than that, it would be nothing at all. 
It would have no eschaton, no end either in the sense of culmination 
or purpose. And if there is no eschaton, there is no future, for it is 
the eschaton, the end, that gives history its direction and makes it pos- 
sible for us to speak of the future in any significant sense. 

It is true that history, even in its succession of events, reveals some- 
thing of judgment and fulfilment. We have seen how the blind arro- 
gance of self-absolutization involved in the "idolization of the ephem- 
eral" leads to destruction, and we have seen, too, how self -transcending 
goodness may achieve its results in history. Even so personal, so ex- 
istential, an experience as repentance may, to a limited degree at least, 
enter into the historical process and open the way for new possibili- 

226 Judaism and Modern Man 

ties. But all such judgments and fulfilments are at best merely partial 
and provisional. In themselves, they lead nowhere, for they do not 
transform the character of history, which remains an ambiguous, two- 
sided process, taking away with one hand what it gives with the other. 
At the very most, such a dialectic may reveal the tension that under- 
lies the movement of history, but it reveals it as apparently a movement 
without total purpose or direction. 

That cannot be. If the Living God is the Lord of history, history 
must have a total purpose and direction: the divine intent must en- 
force itself in and through the doings of men, not only partially and 
provisionally but completely and finally. Without this ultimate refer- 
ence, even the partial meanings discernible in the flux of events would 
not be able to sustain themselves. Partial judgments imply a final 
judgment, partial fulfilments a total fulfilment, partial redemptions 
the ultimate redemption of the entire historical process. The meaning 
of history must somehow be completed if there is to be any meaning 
at all. 


The problem of meaning is the problem of the completion of history. 
In itself, history is incomplete and fragmentary, not only in the obvious 
sense that no overall pattern seems to fit the particularity of events, 
but also in the more profound sense that, however comprehensive our 
view, we do not seem to be able to extract from history itself any in- 
dication of what it is all about. No immanent meaning emerges, even 
to the most penetrating insight. "The problem of history as a whole," 
Lowith concludes, "is unanswerable within its own perspective. His- 
torical processes as such do not bear the least evidence of a compre- 
hensive and ultimate meaning. History as such has no outcome. There 
never has been and never will be an immanent solution of the problem 
of history." 9 Otherworldly idealism eagerly acknowledges this fact 
and concludes therefrom that history is unreal and insignificant and 
that man can fulfil himself only in the timeless realm of the eternal. 
This-worldly philosophies deny the fact and attempt to give history 
meaning by completing it in its own terms. But this kind of completion 
is always bound to be a false completion, for it operates by selecting 
some one aspect of man and his works and making it the key to the 

Religion and Society 227 

whole. Such idolatrous absolutization leads necessarily to the distor- 
tion of historical existence and the conversion of any philosophy of 
history based upon it into an ideologizing system in which everything 
is sacrificed to die interests of the false absolute. Confusion inevitably 
follows upon man's effort to complete his life through his own power 
or to solve the mystery of existence by his own wisdom. 

The problem thus becomes one of completing the meaning of his- 
tory while avoiding the false and premature solutions involved in any 
attempt to do so in and through the historical process itself. The 
problem is solved in principle when it is recognized that all human 
completions are not only inadequate but contain positive contradic- 
tions to the true meaning, which can only be given to history by a 
power not man's. It is solved in practice when it is recognized that 
man's part in the making of history is of ultimate significance only 
when it is performed in service to the God who is the Lord of history. 
But whether in theory or in practice, it is a solution that will make 
sense only to those who approach history from the standpoint of faith. 

The understanding of history in Hebraic religion is based on the pre- 
supposition that underlies the entire biblical faith: the affirmation of 
the Living God, of a transcendent Power who is active in life and his- 
tory and whom man meets in personal encounter in the context of his- 
torical existence. Seen from the vantage point of this affirmation, his- 
tory takes on a new significance. Its meaning is completed in terms 
beyond itself, yet integral to the full particularity of the historical 

Hebraic eschatology 10 finds the completion of history in the King- 
dom of God. The symbols of faith in which prophet and rabbi envisage 
the final outcome may seem strange to the modern mind, but, if proper- 
ly understood, they illumine the problem of existence in a way that 
neither naturalism nor idealism is able to do. 

All our enterprises within history remain unstable and ambiguous 
no matter how far the historical process is carried. More history can 
never redeem history from the chaos and irrationality that history itself 
brings forth. History may be the realm of meaning, but it is a mean- 
ing that history itself cannot confer. If meaning there is to be and 
our faith in the Living God as Lord of history assures us that meaning 

228 Judaism and Modern Man 

there must be it can only be meaning conferred in a culmination 
and by a power beyond history itself. History, in the biblical-rabbinic 
vision, is finally clarified, completed and redeemed through the Mes- 
siah and the Kingdom of God. 

Nowhere in Scripture or rabbinic tradition is there any suggestion 
that history itself brings mankind into the Kingdom of God slowly 
and gradually, through cumulative, unending progress. On the con- 
trary, this notion, still so popular in "liberal" circles, is directly re- 
pudiated in Jewish tradition by the teaching concerning the "troubles" 
that are to usher in the Messianic Age. On the very eve of the ful- 
filment, we are told, the world will find itself not in a state of near- 
perfection but in the grip of terrible suffering, turmoil and conflict: 

Like the early Prophets and the later apocalyptic writers [Green- 
stone summarizes the Jewish doctrine on the subject! , the Rabbis 
also taught that the Messianic period will be preceded by many 
tribulations, called "Messianic woes," not only for Israel but for 
all the nations of the earth as well. These trials preliminary to 
the advent of the Messianic era will be of all kinds, social and 
political both. 11 

This does not sound much like the "march of progress ever onward 
and upward." Whatever form the Messianic teaching may take in the 
rabbinic writings, however extravagant the imagery may sometimes 
be, the essential realism is never lost: history cannot redeem itself; 
on the contrary, it proceeds and ends in catastrophe from which it 
must be redeemed by the hand of God. 

The coming of the Messiah "at the end of days" is this redeeming 
act of God. Not that redemption does not enter history at every point 
and endow it with the partial meanings and fulfilments which it reveals. 
But these partial meanings and fulfilments, as we have seen, can sus- 
tain themselves only in terms of an ultimate fulfilment to which we 
look forward in faith. The coming of the Messiah opens the "new age" 
of fulfilment. 

The first phase of the Messianic act is presented to us as the final 
defeat of the powers of evil in history and the vindication at last of 
the divine intent in creation. That is why the Messiah means hope and 
why the pagans who know not the Messiah and do not await him are 
literally without hope. The Messianic hope of redemption in Jewish 

Religion and Society 229 

tradition has a double aspect: "particularist," relating to the reintegra- 
tion of Israel and restoration to Zion; and universalist, proclaiming 
the redemption of all mankind and indeed of the cosmos as a whole. 
In a later chapter, we shall consider these two aspects in their relation 
and organic unity; for the present, we need not press this distinction 
within the larger vision of the Messianic fulfilment. 

The advent and triumph of the Messiah leads, in normative Jewish 
tradition, to the next and culminating phase the resurrection of the 
dead, the last judgment, and the inauguration of the "world-to-come" 
(olam ha-ba). 1 ' 2 Perhaps nothing seems so outrageous to the modern 
mind as these eschatological symbols, and yet they are literally in- 
dispensable for any profound view of life and history. 

The symbol, "resurrection of the dead," expresses the depth and 
dimensions of Hebraic religion in relation to the destiny of mankind 
more adequately perhaps than any other concept. This becomes clear 
if we contrast it with the essentially Greek belief in the immortality of 
the soul, with which it is so often confused. The teaching of the resur- 
rection affirms, in the first place, that man's ultimate destiny is not 
something that is his by virtue of his own nature by his possession 
of an "immortal soul," for example but comes to him solely by the 
grace and mercy of God, who "wakes him from the dead." It thus 
emphasizes total dependence on God as against metaphysical self- 
reliance. It affirms, in the second place, that what is destined to ful- 
filment is not a disembodied soul that has sloughed off its body, but 
the whole man body, soul and spirit joined in an indissoluble 
unity. It affirms, in the third place, that the salvation promised of 
God is not a private, individual affair that each one acquires for him- 
self upon his death, but the salvation of mankind, the corporate re- 
demption of men in the full reality of their historical existence. 13 The 
whole point of the doctrine of the resurrection is that the life we live 
now, the life of the body, the life of empirical existence in society, has 
some measure of permanent worth in the eyes of God and will not 
vanish in the transmutation of things at the "last day." The fulfilment 
will be a fulfilment for the the whole man and for all men who have 
lived through the years and have entered into history and its making. 
This is the meaning of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead; it 
is a doctrine with which we cannot dispense, no matter how impatient 

230 Judaism and Modern Man 

we may be with the literalistic pseudo-biological fantasies that have 
gathered around it through the centuries. 

Following upon the resurrection of the dead, in the traditional pic- 
ture, is the last judgment. For the completion of history is not merely 
fulfilment; it is fulfilment that is also judgment. In this last judgment, 
men and their enterprises come before God for the final clarification. 
Pride and oppression are brought low; the humble are raised and their 
tears wiped away. 14 That in men and their deeds which is found 
worthy in God's eyes is fulfilled and completed; that which is evil 
and contrary to the divine intent is purged and destroyed. Then, at 
last, does life lose its ambiguity and our deeds their equivocal char- 
acter in the transfigured existence of the "world-to-come." The last 
judgment is the judgment at the "last day" and therefore always im- 
pending: it hangs over us and our enterprises at every moment of 
existence. It is thus, as in Amos, a fearful prospect that is shatteringly 
contemporaneous: "Woe unto you who desire the day of the Lord! 
... It is darkness and not light!" (Amos 5:18). But at the same 
time, it is the glad promise of life abundant and everlasting: "For be- 
hold, I create a new heaven and a new earth. ... Be ye glad and re- 
joice forever in that which I create" (Isa. 65:17-18). 

The culmination of the transfiguration promised in faith at the "last 
day" is the "world-to-come" (olam ha-ba). But the term in its Eng- 
lish translation is misleading; it is not a new "place" that is promised, 
but a new time, a new age. 16 Just as the intermediate period that is 
history follows upon a primal age that is prelude, so it culminates in 
a new age that is both postlude and fulfilment. The distinction is not 
spatial, between one "world" and another ("this world" and the 
"world-to-come") but temporal, between one time or aeon and an- 
other ("this age" and the "age-to-come"). The difference is crucial, 
for only if it is understood in terms of time can the eschatological out- 
come be relevant to the historical process. The temporal terminology 
is, of course, symbolic, but the symbolism is not arbitrary; it is in- 
herent in the reality of that which is symbolized. The historical pro- 
cess in time culminates in, is fulfilled and judged by, the "new time" 
of the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God and the judgment 
that initiates it, the meaning of history is established and completed. 

It must be obvious to the reader that this three-phase scheme, in 

Religion and Society 231 

which the meaning of the middle phase is given in part in relation to 
the beginning out of which it emerges, but primarily in terms of the 
end for which it is destined, bears a striking resemblance to the three- 
phase scheme of the Marxian dialectic of history. Marxism, too, be- 
gins with a primal state of innocence, "primitive communism," and 
proceeds by way of a "fall" into the middle period, the period of 
social evil, the period of private property and class society. But this 
phase is merely temporary and provisional; it is destined to be over- 
come and replaced by a "new age" of co-operation and uncoerced 
harmony, the "communist society" of the future. This culmination is 
preceded by social disturbances, conflicts and wars ("Messianic 
woes") and is ushered in by a great catastrophic act, the Revolution, 
which judges and purges and opens the way for renewal. But the 
Revolution and the "new society" are not simply promises of the 
future; they are that in terms of which every event in history, every 
enterprise of men in society, past and present, is evaluated and as- 
signed its partial meaning, to be validated in the great fulfilment at the 
"end." The structural analogy could hardly be closer. 16 

And no wonder. For Marxism is, at bottom, a secularization of 
the Hebraic "philosophy" of history. This secularization in which 
human existence is reduced to the two dimensions of nature and society 
and deprived of its transcendent dimension of spirit preserves the 
formal structure of the Hebraic scheme, but drains it of its real power 
and significance. For in Marxist secularism, the beginning and the 
end are simply points in history, events like all other events in the 
historical process. Eschatology is thus reduced to Utopia, and 
history is called upon to realize the perfect and unconditioned society 
in the natural course of its development. History is once more its own 
redeemer; indeed, the illusions of Marxism as to the redemptive powers 
of history are perhaps even more gross than those of "liberal" pro- 
gressivism. But the original imprint of Hebraic eschatology still re- 
mains evident in Marxism, and a comparison of the two, in their re- 
semblance and differences, should prove particularly instructive to the 
modern mind. To those who have lost the sense of the transcendental, 
it may help to illustrate, however inadequately, what is implied when 
we speak of the meaning of history being revealed and completed 
in a great fulfilment at the "end." 

232 Judaism and Modern Man 

The fulfilment of history is the Kingdom of Heaven (malkut 
shamayim) . But here again the usual translation is misleading. What is 
meant is not a kingdom in a kind of superworld called "Heaven," but 
a new age in which the kingship of God is revealed in its f ullness and 
sovereignty. The locus of the Kingdom is the world ("heaven and 
earth") which came into being in the creation; even when later rab- 
binic thought develops the image of the "Heavenly Jerusalem," it is 
still the earthly Jerusalem to which it is related. But while the locus 
of the Kingdom is the world, it is the world redeemed, transfigured 
and renewed through the establishment of a new relation to God. It 
is "a new heaven and a new earth" because it is "heaven and earth" 
in a new time. 17 

In the great prophetic visions of the "end-time," what is common 
amidst the variety of imagery is the passionate conviction that the new 
age of redemption will mark the return of man and nature to theo- 
centric existence, in which fellowship with God in love and obedience 
will be the very texture of life. Sin the yetzer ha-ra will be elimi- 
nated, the rabbis tell us, 18 and the law of love will be not merely regu- 
lative but actually constitutive of existence. All nature will be trans- 
formed and the primal harmonies of Paradise restored in an unim- 
aginable way: 

But in the end of days it shall come to pass that the mountain of 
the Lord's house shall be established as the top of the mountains, 
and it shall be exalted above the hills; and the peoples shall 
stream unto it ... And they shall beat their swords into plough- 
shares, and their spears into priming-hooks; nation shall not lift 
up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. 
But they shall sit every man under his vine and his fig-tree; and 
none shall make them afraid. For the mouth of the Lord of 
Hosts has spoken (Mic. 4:1-4). 

And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and 
a sprout shall grow forth out of his roots. And the spirit of the 
Lord shall rest upon him . . . With righteousness shall he judge 
the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the land; . . . 
and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked . . . And 
the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down 
with the kid; and the calf and the young lion shall graze together; 
and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the hear shall 
be friends, and their young ones shall lie down together; and the 

Religion and Society 233 

lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play 
on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand 
on the viper's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy 
mountain; for the earth shall he full of the knowledge of the 
Lord, as the waters cover the sea (Isa. 11:1-9). 

The grandeur and poetic magnificence of these visions should not 
make us lose sight of what it is the Prophets are saying. In his own 
good time, they proclaim, God will take decisive action to redeem 
Israel and the world. He will send his Messiah and bring the reign 
of evil in history to an end by rooting out sin and hatred from the 
hearts of men and by allaying the violence and conflict in nature. To 
this grandiose picture of the "new age" rabbinic speculation has added 
rich imagery intended to emphasize the incredible fertility of nature 
and the radical transformation of all life. 10 But in prophet and rabbi 
alike, the crucial point is that "the earth shall be full of the knowledge 
of the Lord": man will once again be at one with God, and therefore 
at one with himself, with his fellow-men, and with all creation. The 
"new age" of the Kingdom of God may indeed mark the end of his- 
tory as we know it, but it is the beginning of life everlasting in its 
fulness and truth. 20 

The Kingdom of God is thus basically conceived as a restoration 
of the primal harmonies of Paradise before the Fall, an annihilation 
of the contradiction which sin has introduced into existence. 21 But it 
is more than that. For, as Brunner emphasizes, "the end of time and 
the beginning are not the same . . . Between these two points, the 
start and the finish, something happens, which even for God is real 
and significant. There is history, an individual and universal human 
history. . . ." 22 The "new age" of the Kingdom is, in a sense, a return 
to the primal harmonies of God's order of creation, but it is a return 
enriched with all that history in its creativity has brought forth. The 
teaching of the Kingdom offers no comfort to primitivistic utopianism, 
which regards all history as a mistake to be rectified by a return to 
Paradise. It is deeply aware of the ambiguities of history, but it 
understands that since human existence is thoroughly historical in its 
structure, the fulfilment of existence must be a fulfilment of history 
or it is nothing at all. 

The Kingdom of God, because it is fulfilment, is promise, norm 

234 Judaism and Modern Man 

and demand. It is promise because it proclaims the hope of a total 
realization of life after judgment. It is promise because it holds forth 
the assurance that those who suffer oppression and injustice in the 
world-as-it-is will inherit their reward in the world-as-it-will-be. The 
Jewish folk-imagination that sees the Messianic Age as one of endless 
feasting on the Leviathan and the Behemoth, like the Negro spiritual 
that joyfully proclaims that in Heaven all God's children have shoes, 
may outrage the fastidious mind by its crass "materialism," but it 
shows a genuine understanding of the promise of the Kingdom, which 
is that life shall be completed and fulfilled in all its dimensions. 23 

But if the Kingdom is promise, it is also norm. The Kingdom of 
God is the life of man as it should be. The law of the Kingdom 
total love of God, with all its implications is the law of our life here 
and now. It is therefore demand as well, for it places us under the 
obligation never to rest so long as our life is lived in violation of this 
law which in history it always is. 

The Kingdom of God is thus both here and to come. Since the 
"new age" of the Kingdom is the time of the fulness of the divine 
sovereignty in the life of the redeemed world, the Kingdom may be 
said to be in power in this age wherever and to the degree that men 
are transformed in love of God and the acknowledgment of his total 
sovereignty. In this sense, the Kingdom is already here; yet for its 
coming we pray: 24 but it is one and the same reality in two stages of 

The Kingdom of God is therefore not some far-off event in the 
indeterminate future; were it merely that, all talk about it would be 
idle speculation without relevance to reality. The Kingdom of God 
is a dynamic force within life and history, here and now. It upsets all 
human calculations. It confounds human complacency and despair 
alike. Against complacency, it has the word of judgment; to despair, 
it holds out the promise of fulfilment despite everything. It validates 
human existence by revealing its goal and direction and by sustaining 
the partial meanings, which, even in its incompleteness, life brings 
forth. 25 It places all life under criticism, for it calls into question all 
human values and institutions, allowing nothing in this world to parade 
as final or absolute. It fills life with hope, for in faith we are assured 
that in the "new age" of the Kingdom, our present life will not be 

Religion and Society 235 

dismissed as meaningless but will be completed and fulfilled. It en- 
dows life with power for action and generates that "passionate thirst 
for the future" which Renan found to be the mark of the "true Israel- 
ite." It stands at the "end" of history, yet enters into history at every 
point and drives it forward to its consummation. 

Just because the eschatological reality is also existential, it is neces- 
sary to distinguish it clearly from the perfectionist utopianism with 
which it is frequently confused. Eschatological perfection is not a pos- 
sibility of history, although it points to ever-new possibilities within it. 
Isaiah's or Micah's vision of peace is not something that can be real- 
ized by the United Nations. Even the most perfect world state could 
do no more than enforce peace throughout the world, just as the na- 
tional state does today within its own borders. But the hatreds and 
conflicts among men would remain, though prevented from breaking 
out into open violence. The "peace" of the prophets is something very 
different: it is an inner harmony and love that needs no external sanc- 
tions. As such, it transcends the resources of history to achieve, al- 
though every achievement of history must be measured in its terms. 
To ignore this fact and to attempt to reduce the prophetic vision of 
perfection to the level of perfectionist utopianism is to throw con- 
fusion alike into practical politics and the ultimate insights of religion. 

The Kingdom is here, yet for it we pray. It is the redemptive act 
of God, yet for it we work. What a man does, Jewish tradition as- 
sures us, has its effect on the coming of the Messiah, yet it is God 
who sends him. 26 "It is not as though man has to do this or that to 
'hasten' the redemption of the world . . .; yet those who 'turn' co- 
operate in the redemption of the world." 27 The fulfilment of the "new 
age" is a fulfilment of history through the power of God, but it would 
be meaningless were there not history that is, the actions of men 
to fulfil. It is the same paradox of decision and grace projected on the 
screen of the "horizontal" movement of history. "The mystery is that, 
on the one hand, duty is demanded of us as if duty not done will never 
be done. On the other hand, faith declares that man would be undone 
if God did not complete what we have left incomplete and purify 
what we have corrupted." 28 If the Marxist or "liberal" secularist finds 
this paradox too "mystical" for his taste, let him remember that he, 
too, is involved in it, for he, too, affirms the need for human action 

236 Judaism and Modern Man 

while looking to "progress" or the "dialectic of history" to bring ful- 
filment. The truth is that some such paradox is inherent in any philo- 
sophy that takes history seriously, but only the eschatology of Hebraic 
religion can raise it beyond the plane of mere contradiction and give 
it profound meaning in the total scheme of human destiny. 

Hebraic eschatology thus solves the problem of history in the only 
way it can be solved, by finding its meaning not in the premature 
completions that man in his pretensions tries to force upon it, but 
in the judgment and fulfilment toward which it is directed by the hand 
of God. Hebraic eschatology thereby escapes the dilemmas with 
which naturalism and idealism are beset. It can affirm the reality and 
meaning of historical time without falling into the secularist delusion 
that time and history fulfil themselves. It can deny the pretensions of 
history to self -salvation and self-revelation without lapsing into ideal- 
istic "eternalism." It can do justice to the valid insights of Marxism, 
of the doctrine of progress and of other conceptions of history with- 
out succumbing to their one-sided absolutizations and oversimplifica- 
tions. That is why an increasing number of social and historical 
thinkers are beginning to make a certain use of the eschatological 
framework to give depth to their analyses, even though they may not 
be able to bring themselves to the faith out of which it springs. Such 
pragmatic appropriation is a significant tribute to the realism and 
power of the biblical view of history, but in the last analysis it is un- 
tenable and has no saving virtue. 

For when all is said and done, the biblical view of history is not a 
philosophy of history but a gospel of salvation. It tells us how and 
why we have gotten into this dreadful plight of sinful existence. It 
brings to us a shattering sense of the human predicament, yet forbids 
us to despair, for it assures us that in the very midst of the tragedy 
and frustrations of the historical process, the divine power is at work, 
redeeming temporal existence and leading it forward to fulfilment in 
a "new age" in which life will at last realize all its potentialities and 
be transfigured in the fulness of the love of God. Such is the word of 
Hebraic eschatology; it is a word that can be really apprehended only 
in faith. 

Religion and Society 237 


1. Gen. r., chap, ix, No. 7. "Election, defection [fall] and return are the 
three periods in which history is seen running its course. . . . Election 
without defection would be an assumption of paradisal history lessness; 
the fall gives impulse to history. Fall without return, however, would 
mean history surrendered and planless. Between fall and return history 
completes its course." N. N. Glatzer, Untersuchungen zur Geschichtslehre 
der Tannaiten (Schocken: Berlin, 1933), pp. 35-36. 

2. Karl Marx, Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (International 
Publishers, New York, n. d.), chap. iii. 

3. Marx, op. cit., chap. i. 

4. W. Windelband, Lehrbuch der Geschichte der Philosophic (Fischer: 
Freiburg, Germany, 1892), p. 213, contrasts the Greek view of history as 
"an eternal process of nature" with the Hebrew-Christian conception of 
"the drama of world-history as a temporal activity of free and active wills." 

5. A. Marmorstein, The Old Rabbinic Doctrine of God: the Names and 
Attributes of God (Oxford University: London, 1927), p. 48. Cf. also 
Marmorstein, The Doctrine of Merit (Jews' College: London, 1920), 
pp. 185ff. 

6. Abot d. R. N., version B. chap. 21. Solomon Schechter, Studies in 
Judaism, Third Series (Jewish Publication Society: Philadelphia, 1945), 
p. 271; Isadore Epstein, The Jewish Way of Life (Goldston: London, 
1946), pp. 131-32. 

7. A. J. Toynbee, A Study of History, abridgement by D. C. Somervell 
(Oxford: New York, 1947), pp. 307-10, 581-82. 

8 Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immortal Society (Scribner's: 
New York, 1934), pp. xi-xii. 

9. Karl Lowith, Meaning in History (University of Chicago: Chicago, 
1949), p. 191. 

10. An excellent account of biblical-early rabbinic, eschatology is to be 
found in G. F. Moore, Judaism (Harvard University: Cambridge, Mass., 
1927), Vol. II, Part VII, "The Hereafter." 

11. J. H. Greenstone, The Messiah Idea in Jewish History (Jewish Pub- 
lication Society, Philadelphia, 1906), p. 94. Greenstone supplies the 

12. "The Messianic period is to precede the 'world-to-come'; at its end, 
the resurrection will take place and then the 'world-to-come' will begin. 
. . . According to semi-authoritative statements in the Talmud, the Mes- 
sianic period proper will precede the 'world-to-come' and the two thus 
become distinguished from each other . . . The belief in the coming of the 

238 Judaism and Modern Man 

Messiah, a scion of David, who will gather the Jews from exile and re- 
store them to Palestine, in the resurrection, and in olam ha-ba, became 
cardinal principles and dogmas in Judaism." M. Waxman, A Handbook of 
Judaism (Bloch: New York, 1947), pp. 163-65. See also Schechter, 
Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (Macmillan: New York, 1909), 
p. 102. The explicit affirmation of resurrection was a fairly late develop- 
ment in Jewish faith, very largely post-biblical. The earlier expectation 
was essentially corporate, looking toward the vindication of God's pur- 
pose with Israel and the fulfilment of its vocation. 

13. 'There can be no complete consummation for the individual until 
there is consummation also for society." John Baillie, And the Life Ever- 
lasting (Scribner's: New York, 1933) p. 249. 

14. "For the Lord of Hosts has a day against all that is proud and high 
and against all that is lofty and tall . . . Then the haughtiness of man 
will be humbled, and the pride of man will be brought low; and the Lord 
alone will be exalted on that day." Isa. 2:12, 17. "So the Lord God 
will wipe away the tears from all the faces, and will remove from all the 
earth the reproach that lies on his people." Isa. 25:8. 

15. Moore, Judaism, II, 378, note 1 "But the Day of Judgment shall be 
the end of this age and the beginning of the eternal age-to-come." IV Ezra 

16. See Will Herberg, "The Christian Mythology of Socialism," Antioch 
Review, Vol. Ill (Spring, 1943) No. 1. 

17. "[Prophetic messianism] implies no mere negation of the world in 
which we live, but its purification and completion; a community not of dis- 
embodied spirits but of men; 'a new heaven and new earth,' indeed, but 
erected upon the renewal of the human heart. This is the legacy of the 
Jewish Prophets." Martin Buber, Der heilige Weg (Literarische Anstalt 
Riitten & Loemng: Frankfort, 1920), p. 34. 

"Man . . . will become a new creature." M. Higger, The Jewish Utopia 
(Lord Baltimore Press: Baltimore, 1932), p. 103. 

18. B. Sukkah 52a; Gen. r. chap xlvih, No. 11; Exod. r. chap, xlvi, No. 4; 
Num. r. chap, xv, No. 16. 

19. See the very interesting compilation in Higger, op. cit. Also A. Cohen, 
Everyman's Talmud (Dutton: New York, 1949), pp. 352 ff. 

20. "He will destroy death forever." Isa. 25:8. Since death came in as the 
fruit of sin (Sifra 27a), the restoration of life to theocentric existence 
will mean the overcoming of death. 

21. According to Jewish tradition, even in respect to the physical fea- 
tures of creation, "conditions [in the Messianic Age! will be the same as 
before the fall." L. Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews (Jewish Publication 
Society: Philadelphia, 1938), V, 142, 152. 

22. Emil Brunner, Christianity and Civilization (Scribner's: New York, 
1948), First Part, p. 49. 

Religion and Society 239 

23. It is therefore pictured as a "perpetual Sabbath": "The symbolic de- 
scription of the world-to-come as the "great Sabbath* ... is of frequent 
occurrence in Jewish as well as early Christian literature." Ginzberg, 
Legends, V, 128. 

24. Cf. the prayer in the Kaddish, so central to Jewish liturgy: "May he 
establish his kingdom [kingship] in your lifetime and during your days 
and within the life of the entire house of Israel, speedily and soon." Yet 
every time we affirm that "God is King" we acknowledge his kingship as 
a present reality. 

25. It is in terms of the biblical scheme of creation, sinful existence in 
history, and redemption in the "new age" of the Kingdom of God that 
Hebraic thinking, as Milton well understood, "justifies God's ways to men." 
Philosophical thiodicy is completely foreign to the Bible and very largely 
to rabbinic thought. 

26. "As against the belief that God had determined the exact date for 
the dawn of the Messianic era," A. Cohen explains (op. cit., p. 351), 
"there grew up another doctrine that the date was not fixed but would 
be affected by the conduct of the people. That thought was read into 
the words, 'I the Lord will hasten it in its time' (Isa. 60:22), which were 
explained in this sense: 'If you are worthy, I will hasten it; if you are not 
worthy, it will be in its time' (B. San. 98a)". 

27. Buber, "The Two Foci of the Jewish Soul," Israel and the World 
(Schocken: New York, 1948), p. 37. 

28. Reinhold Niebuhr, Beyond Tragedy (Scribner's: New York, 1937), 
p. 268. 

"We are dependent upon grace; but we do not do God's will when we 
take it upon ourselves to begin with grace instead of beginning with our- 
selves." Buber, 'The Two Foci of the Jewish Soul," Israel and the World, 
pp. 32-33. 

"It would be completely senseless to try to measure how great is man's 
part in the redemption of the world. ... It is senseless to ask how far 
my action reaches and where God's grace begins. . . . Man's action is en- 
closed in God's action, but it is still real action." Buber, "The Interpreta- 
tion of Chassidism," Mamre (Melbourne University: Melbourne, 1946), 
p. 114. 



The view of the basic realities of existence developed in the fore- 
going chapters as the essential teaching of Jewish religion is not the 
work of reason or the finding of science. What Jewish religion has to 
say about God, man and the world has its rational import and em- 
pirical relevance in that it bears directly on human life and helps to 
illumine as nothing else can the problem and perplexities of human 
existence. But it does not consist of propositions that can be estab- 
lished as logically compelling by the operations of reason or as em- 
pirically probable by the procedures of science. "God, freedom and 
immortality" cannot be proved, as the rationalists contend, nor can 
they be inferred from the latest discoveries of physics or biology, as 
the latter-day "scientific" philosophers of religion assure us. We must 
agree with the positivists and skeptics, though on entirely different 
grounds, that these questions are, in the last analysis, beyond the com- 
petence of pure reason or scientific method and that every attempt to 
"establish religion" either philosophically or scientifically is involved 
in hopeless fallacy. We have seen why this should be so: the affirma- 
tions of religion all hinge upon a crucial presupposition and commit- 
ment that emerges on a level far deeper than the rational processes 
of philosophy or science. Reason has its uses in the religious life, but 
its function is not to excogitate the ultimate truth about existence. 

This does not mean that science and philosophy have no bearing 
upon what Hebraic religion holds to be the ultimate truth about exist- 
ence. On the contrary, the insight into reality that comes of faith deals 
with the same real world with which science and at least the better 
part of philosophy are concerned. History, anthropology, psychology, 
all the social sciences are of genuine significance to the religious think- 
er, for they all have something important to say about the human 
situation with which he is concerned, but the frame of reference in 
which he does his thinking and the categories with which he operates 


244 Judaism and Modern Man 

possess a dimension of depth to which science, because of its natural- 
istic premises, cannot pretend. In the multidimensional perspective 
of religious faith, the findings of science have their place and indeed 
acquire a new significance, but the perspective itself is not drawn from 
science nor can it be validated by reason or philosophy. The outlook 
of Hebraic religion, to which we have so often referred, finds its source 
and validation on an altogether different level of reality. 

That source and validation is to be found in the Bible and in the 
religious tradition stemming from it. Reason and science are neces- 
sary to apprehend and make relevant what Scripture tells us, but it 
is Scripture and not science or philosophy that, in the normative Jew- 
ish view, reveals the living truth about man and the world. 

The affirmation that Scripture is in some sense revelation is com- 
mon to all religious thinkers in the Hebraic tradition, but the sense 
in which this claim is interpreted varies widely, and it is necessary 
to examine it somewhat more closely if it is to be given any real 

Most familiar, and yet remote from its true import, is the funda- 
mentalist conception of revelation as the supernatural communication 
of information through a body of writings which are immune from 
error because they are quite literally the writings of God. Everything 
in Scripture is thus held to be equally inerrant and equally inspired, 
whether it be notions about the shape of the earth or insights into the 
nature of man and his relation to God. Every incident is considered 
equally historical and equally factual, for its recording is believed to 
be at the direct dictation of the divine power. No critical examination 
of texts from the point of view of sources or process of development 
is possible, for the source is always immediately God and process of 
development there has not been. In many cases, this rigid, scholastic 
scheme is supported by an equally rigid rationalistic argument which 
pretends to substantiate the claim of Scripture by the resources of 

This fundamentalist doctrine, though its origins are ancient, de- 
veloped into a hard-and-fast closed system only in relatively modern 
times, in part at least as a measure of defense against heterodoxy. 
Jewish orthodox opinion, indeed, has even tended to extend this notion 

The Mystery of Israel 245 

of Scriptural inspiration and infallibility to the Talmud and other 
rabbinical writings, especially those dealing with halakah. It is hardly 
necessary to point out that fundamentalism today, while still widely 
affirmed, is thoroughly discredited with every critical mind. Much 
in the biblical writings the bits of astronomical, geographical and 
biological information contained in them, for example is obviously 
at odds with some of the best authenticated scientific knowledge of 
our time. The earth is not flat, the sun does not make its daily transit 
over it from one edge to the other, and life on earth did not appear 
quite in the way or the order described in Genesis. Neither the chron- 
ology nor the history recorded in the Scriptural works can be taken 
simply at its face value, although they have shown themselves in many 
ways better founded than scholarly opinion only recently was willing 
to grant. From another direction, the sacred writings themselves have 
been critically analyzed, and while much of the work of critical 
scholarship is by no means secure, it can no longer be seriously ques- 
tioned that the Bible in its various parts is a highly composite work, 
reflecting a long and immensely complicated process of literary con- 
struction, redaction and development. However it may be related 
to God, the Bible is obviously not simply a transcript from his dicta- 
tion and therefore no seamless whole incapable of error. And to 
complete the case against fundamentalism, it has become increasingly 
clear that the rationalistic conception of revelation as the supernatural 
communication of infallible information is altogether out of line with 
the Bible itself and is not even in harmony with much of later tradi- 
tion. Fundamentalism, in short, defends a view of revelation that 
not only runs counter to substantial fact but is also of dubious re- 
ligious power and significance. 

As against the fundamentalist, the modernist accepts the findings 
of science and critical scholarship, but he so interprets these findings 
as to render revelation nothing but a figure of speech. The Scriptural 
writers, he concedes, were "inspired," but this means little more than 
saying that a Shakespeare or a Plato or a Buddha was inspired; the 
"inspiration" of the prophet is identified with the imagination of the 
poet and the illumination of the mystic or philosopher. As to the 
biblical writings themselves, they are, to the modernist, interesting 
compilations of myth, legend and folklore, in which are embedded 

246 Judaism and Modern Man 

a number of high ethical teachings. They are a kind of primitive 
literature, important for us culturally and pedagogically, no doubt, 
but hardly to be taken seriously as God's word. After all, we are re- 
minded, has not criticism shown that even the Pentateuch is a patch- 
work of documents from different times, sources and historical settings 
in other words, a compilation made by men rather than a single 
whole dictated by God? 

Both modernism and fundamentalism agree on insisting that it must 
be either one or the other. If you question the fundamentalist premi- 
ses, you must necessarily proceed to dissolve revelation into a mean- 
ingless phrase; and if you question the modernist conclusions, you 
must necessarily lapse into a benighted fundamentalism. Thus each 
protects itself by brandishing the scarecrow of the other. But we need 
not take this strategy too seriously. There is a third way, not "be- 
tween" modernism and fundamentalism but beyond and distinct from 
both. Franz Rosenzweig and Martin Buber, among Jews, and H. 
Richard Niebuhr and Emil Brunner, among Christians, have shown 
how one may take Scripture with the utmost seriousness as the record 
of revelation while avoiding the pitfalls of fundamentalism. They have 
also shown how the findings of science and scholarship may be ac- 
cepted at the same time that one affirms Scripture to be truly the 
vehicle of God's word. This third conception of revelation makes the 
attempt to be thoroughly biblical and thoroughly realistic at the same 
time, in the conviction that no conception can be the one without also 
being the other. 

In this view, a shift in the very meaning of the term "revelation" 
is involved. Revelation is not the communication of infallible infor- 
mation, as the fundamentalists claim, nor is it the outpouring of "in- 
spired" sages and poets, as the modernists conceive it. Revelation 
is the self-disclosure of God in his dealings with the world. Scripture 
is thus not itself revelation but a humanly mediated record of revela- 
tion. It is a story composed of many strands and fragments, each 
arising in its own time, place and circumstances, yet it is essentially 
one, for it is throughout the story of the encounter of God and man 
in the history of Israel. Scripture as revelation is not a compendium 
of recondite information or metaphysical propositions; it is quite 
literally Heilsgeschichte, redemptive history. 

The Mystery of Israel 247 

"He has made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the children 
of Israel" (Ps. 103:7): it is in this way that the Bible itself refers 
to revelation. What is revealed is God himself in his dealings with 
men; what is revealed is God's will demand, judgment and mercy 
in the ever-changing context of events; what is revealed is the "true 
history of the world" because it is the history of the world in its 
ultimate dimension of relation to God, "according to which [it] has 
an origin and a goal." 1 But although God reveals himself and his will 
in history, the meaning of history as revelation is visible not to the 
detached eye of the observer but to the inner eye of faith. When 
Isaiah proclaimed the outcome of the Assyrian war to be a revelation 
of God's judgment ("O Assyria, the rod of mine anger. . ." [Isa. 
10:5] ), he was referring to concrete historical events, but no Thucy- 
dides could have detected the operations of God in the course of 
these events. Through Isaiah, God spoke, but in receiving and trans- 
mitting the word of God, Isaiah was himself existentially involved in 
the situation as actor not as spectator. The insider can see what to 
the outsider must remain forever hidden: "spectator and actor stand 
in different worlds, speak a different language, and are unable to con- 
vince each other." 2 Revelation in Scriptural history is not simply the 
course of events; it is the course of events apprehended in faith and 
disclosed in its meaning by prophetic interpretation which itself be- 
comes a factor deeply involved in the making of the history it is 
engaged in interpreting. History is history, but only to the eyes of 
faith is the meaning of history disclosed in its redemptive significance. 
Faith, the existential involvement of faith, is at once the presupposition 
and the interpretive principle of the divine revelation to which Scrip- 
ture bears witness. 

Because "revelation is something that happens, the living history 
of God in his dealings with the human race," 8 Scripture knows 
nothing of any metaphysical speculations about the nature or essence 
of deity or of any mystical illumination through union with the divine. 
One might even say that Scripture in this respect is ultrapragmatic: 
it tells us nothing about God except his ways and his acts. "What 
the Bible says God is" Professor Baab asserts, "really amounts to 
saying what he does. Terms of description are really terms of function 
and behavior." 4 "The Hebrew," Professor Snaith insists, "does not 

246 Judaism and Modern Man 

a number of high ethical teachings. They are a kind of primitive 
literature, important for us culturally and pedagogically, no doubt, 
but hardly to be taken seriously as God's word. After all, we are re- 
minded, has not criticism shown that even the Pentateuch is a patch- 
work of documents from different times, sources and historical settings 
in other words, a compilation made by men rather than a single 
whole dictated by God? 

Both modernism and fundamentalism agree on insisting that it must 
be either one or the other. If you question the fundamentalist premi- 
ses, you must necessarily proceed to dissolve revelation into a mean- 
ingless phrase; and if you question the modernist conclusions, you 
must necessarily lapse into a benighted fundamentalism. Thus each 
protects itself by brandishing the scarecrow of the other. But we need 
not take this strategy too seriously. There is a third way, not "be- 
tween" modernism and fundamentalism but beyond and distinct from 
both. Franz Rosenzweig and Martin Buber, among Jews, and H. 
Richard Niebuhr and Emil Brunner, among Christians, have shown 
how one may take Scripture with the utmost seriousness as the record 
of revelation while avoiding the pitfalls of fundamentalism. They have 
also shown how the findings of science and scholarship may be ac- 
cepted at the same time that one affirms Scripture to be truly the 
vehicle of God's word. This third conception of revelation makes the 
attempt to be thoroughly biblical and thoroughly realistic at the same 
time, in the conviction that no conception can be the one without also 
being the other. 

In this view, a shift in the very meaning of the term "revelation" 
is involved. Revelation is not the communication of infallible infor- 
mation, as the fundamentalists claim, nor is it the outpouring of "in- 
spired" sages and poets, as the modernists conceive it. Revelation 
is the self-disclosure of God in his dealings with the world. Scripture 
is thus not itself revelation but a humanly mediated record of revela- 
tion. It is a story composed of many strands and fragments, each 
arising in its own time, place and circumstances, yet it is essentially 
one, for it is throughout the story of the encounter of God and man 
in the history of Israel. Scripture as revelation is not a compendium 
of recondite information or metaphysical propositions; it is quite 
literally Heilsgeschichte, redemptive history. 

The Mystery of Israel 247 

"He has made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the children 
of Israel" (Ps. 103:7): it is in this way that the Bible itself refers 
to revelation. What is revealed is God himself in his dealings with 
men; what is revealed is God's will demand, judgment and mercy 
in the ever-changing context of events; what is revealed is the "true 
history of the world" because it is the history of the world in its 
ultimate dimension of relation to God, "according to which [it] has 
an origin and a goal." 1 But although God reveals himself and his will 
in history, the meaning of history as revelation is visible not to the 
detached eye of the observer but to the inner eye of faith. When 
Isaiah proclaimed the outcome of the Assyrian war to be a revelation 
of God's judgment ("O Assyria, the rod of mine anger. . ." [Isa. 
10:5] ), he was referring to concrete historical events, but no Thucy- 
dides could have detected the operations of God in the course of 
these events. Through Isaiah, God spoke, but in receiving and trans- 
mitting the word of God, Isaiah was himself cxistentially involved in 
the situation as actor not as spectator. The insider can see what to 
the outsider must remain forever hidden: "spectator and actor stand 
in different worlds, speak a different language, and are unable to con- 
vince each other." 2 Revelation in Scriptural history is not simply the 
course of events; it is the course of events apprehended in faith and 
disclosed in its meaning by prophetic interpretation which itself be- 
comes a factor deeply involved in the making of the history it is 
engaged in interpreting. History is history, but only to the eyes of 
faith is the meaning of history disclosed in its redemptive significance. 
Faith, the existential involvement of faith, is at once the presupposition 
and the interpretive principle of the divine revelation to which Scrip- 
ture bears witness. 

Because "revelation is something that happens, the living history 
of God in his dealings with the human race," 3 Scripture knows 
nothing of any metaphysical speculations about the nature or essence 
of deity or of any mystical illumination through union with the divine. 
One might even say that Scripture in this respect is ultrapragmatic: 
it tells us nothing about God except his ways and his acts. "What 
the Bible says God /V Professor Baab asserts, "really amounts to 
saying what he does. Terms of description are really terms of function 
and behavior." 4 "The Hebrew," Professor Snaith insists, "does not 

248 Judaism and Modern Man 

say that Jehovah fo, . .but that he does."* What both are saying is 
what Maimonides long ago pointed out: "All attributes ascribed to 
God are attributes of His acts." 6 Scripture tells us nothing, and there- 
fore we can know nothing significant, about the being of God. 7 The 
only positive assertions that we can meaningfully make about God 
are affirmations of the divine activity in relation to man and the world; 
we can make such assertions because Scripture tells us about God's 
"ways" and "acts"; it is by testifying to his "mighty deeds" of judg- 
ment and redemption that Scripture brings us the revelation of God. 

We have been speaking about Scripture as of a unity and yet we 
know that it is a veritable patchwork of documents from the most 
varied sources and historical contexts. How then can we call it one? 
"It is really one book, for one basic theme unites all the stories and 
songs, sayings and prophecies contained within it. [That] theme is 
the encounter between a group of people and the Lord of the world 
in the course of history. . .Either openly or by implication, the stories 
are reports of [such] encounters." 8 It is this oneness of theme, 
running through it from beginning to end, that makes the Bible one 
book and the faith grounded in it one faith. The views of Abraham 
on the nature of things and even on the "nature" of the divine were 
presumably far more "primitive" than those of Isaiah so many cen- 
turies later, but their faith was the same, for they stood in the same 
crisis of confrontation with God, shared the same ultimate covenantal 
commitment, and recognized the same Lord and his absolute claim. 9 
Before this superhistorical reality, all historicism though not all his- 
tory loses its significance. 

The unity of Scripture as revelation is not only a unity of theme; 
it is also a unity of vision and purpose. The history which carries 
the meaning of Scriptural revelation is redemptive history. It is the 
account of God's dealings with men told from the point of view of 
his redemptive purpose. Everything is directed toward that goal of 
redemption; even the genealogies, if properly understood, have that 
significance. Whatever other uses Scripture may have, its use as 
revelation is to disclose God's ways and purposes in the redemption 
of mankind and to open up to us the possibility of becoming part of 
that process by making the redemptive history our own. 

The Mystery of Israel 249 

This inner unity of Scripture is reflected in and conveyed through 
the unity that emerges from all the bewildering complexity of its 
literary development. The very work of compilation and redaction 
is creative and revealing. Granted that the biblical writings are com- 
pilations from various times and sources, the meaning of Scripture, 
Rosenzweig points out, is to be found not merely in what the Bible 
"says" in its various parts but also in how these parts are put together, 
just as in a mosaic the meaning of the picture emerges from the way 
the separate tiles are arranged and put together, regardless of the 
source of the constituents themselves. It is the whole that counts, 
and Scripture is a whole, a unique and organic whole. Rosenzweig 
regards the Redactor using this term as the name for the compilers 
and editors of the biblical books as the key figure in the develop- 
ment of the Bible. 

Our difference with Orthodoxy the explains to the Orthodox 
leader, Dr. Jacob Rosenheim, in a letter dated April 21, 19271 
consists in this, that from our belief in the holiness and unique- 
ness of the Torah and its character as revelation, we cannot draw 
any conclusions as to its literary origins or the philological value 
of the received text. Should Wellhausen piove right in all his 
theories. . . , our faith would not be affected in the least. . .We 
too translate the Torah as a single book. For us, too, it is the 
work of one spirit. . .Among ourselves we call him by the sym- 
bol which critical science is accustomed to use to designate its 
assumed redactor: R. But this symbol R we expand not into 
Redactor but into Rabbenu. For he is our teacher; his theology 
is our teaching. 10 

This view, it should be noted, implies that the work of recording, 
compiling and redacting that has gone into the making of the Bible 
is itself an instrument of the divine intent in revelation. The redactor 
through his work, like the prophet or chronicler through his, is help- 
ing to communicate the word of God in Scripture. It is a view that 
at first sight must seem strange to both the critical scholar, who as- 
signs the redactor an altogether minor role in the Scriptural process, 
and to the old-line fundamentalist, who simply denies his existence. 
But it is the only view that does justice alike to the findings of critical 
scholarship and to the overall unity of Scripture. It is the only view 

250 Judaism and Modern Man 

by which inner meaning and the external process of literary compo- 
sition may be made to clarify and sustain each other. 

Understanding revelation in this way, we can see how it is possible 
to take Scripture seriously as the communication of God's word and 
(he ultimate truth about existence without necessarily regarding it as 
verbally inerrant oracles dictated by God. It is, in a real sense, a 
record of God's "mighty deeds" and therefore a revelation of his 
"ways," but it is a record made by man and therefore subject to all 
the relativities and contingencies of human experience. God reveals 
himself through his actions in life and history, and the Bible is pre- 
eminently an account of his dealings with Israel, in which he makes 
known his will and displays his judgments and mercies. But the 
books of the Bible were put together and edited by men in the course 
of centuries and therefore contain God's word only as it has passed 
through the medium of the human heart and mind. "The Torah 
speaks in the language of men," 11 the Talmud tells us, and this 
profound dictum may be understood as a criticism of modernism and 
fundamentalism alike. As against fundamentalism, it is necessary to 
emphasize the "language of men," which implies that the men of the 
Bible, communicating to other men, tell of God's ways with the world 
in terms of their own "language," their own necessarily limited, his- 
torically conditioned knowledge and imagination: hence the factual 
inaccuracies (relative to our present knowledge) of which the Bible 
is full. As against the modernists, it is necessary to insist on the fact 
that, despite its speaking the "language of men," the Bible is "Torah" 
that is, "teaching" about the ultimate truth. And yet while their 
inadequacies stand thus exposed, both fundamentalism and modernism 
have valuable insights that we cannot afford to ignore. Fundamental- 
ism is right in stressing the unity of the Bible and its character as 
revelation; modernism is right in pointing to what may be called the 
human aspect of the Bible and hence to its relativities and fallibilities. 
An adequate understanding of revelation must take into account what 
both have to say and combine them into a higher and more pregnant 
synthesis. This, I think, is in a large measure achieved by the view 
here presented, following the ideas of Franz Rosenzweiig and Martin 
Buber. The Bible is the word of God, but it is also the work of man: 
neither side of this double affirmation may be suppressed or ignored. 

The Mystery of Israel 251 

It is, however, necessary to define biblical revelation a little more 
closely from another direction. Biblical revelation, like the biblical 
world-view in general, is ineradicably particularistic. This particular- 
ism, exhibited so obviously in the quite exceptional significance of 
the history of Israel as revelation, is a scandal to the modern mind 
as it was to the mind of Greek antiquity, for to both, truth is some- 
how identified with the timeless and the universal. We shall have 
occasion hi another connection to discuss this question in some detail. 
For the present, it is enough to indicate that the particularism of the 
biblical outlook insists not only that God's dealings with Israel as 
recorded in Scripture reveal his will and ways in a uniquely significant 
manner, but that certain events within that history are uniquely 
significant as revelation. In Jewish faith, as we shall see in the next 
chapter, this crucial event is the "event at Sinai," understanding by 
this term the whole complex of events beginning with the call of Moses 
and culminating in the "reception of the Torah." It is this "Sinai- 
event," which, hi Jewish thinking, constitutes "that part of our inner 
history which illumines the rest of it. . . , the intelligible event which 
makes all other events intelligible. . . [Through this event] , we under- 
stand what we remember, remember what we have forgotten, and 
appropriate as our own past much that seemed alien to us." 12 Exodus- 
Sinai is, for the Jew, the interpretive center of redemptive history, as 
Calvary is for the Christian. Revelation is thus einmalig, "once and 
for all," not in the sense, of course, that God thereafter no longer 
reveals himself in his encounter with men, but in the sense that all 
other "visitations" of God, both before and after, yield their meaning 
only when seen with the eyes of faith from the perspective of this 
central event. The widespread notion of "continuous revelation," ac- 
cording to which all human thinking and all human events are in 
principle equally revelatory of God's truth, is in fact a dissolution of 
revelation into idealistic speculation, historical relativism or mystical 
illumination. Any turn of events which history may bring the rise 
to power of national-socialism or communism, for example may 
be interpreted as the latest and therefore the most authoritative revela- 
tion of ultimate truth. But no one really committed to Scripture as 
the revelation of God's will could for one moment think of accepting 
the idolatrous pretensions of a Hitler or a Stalin. In the biblical view, 

252 Judaism and Modern Man 

nothing that confronts man with a claim to authority as living truth 
can stand unless justified in terms of the central revelatory event. 
The particularity of Scriptural revelation, however offensive to the 
modern mind, reflects the inexpugnable particularity of existence and 
stands as a protection against the pressures and deceptions of the 

Revelation is of the past, but it has no meaning unless and until 
it becomes existentially operative in the contemporaneous present. 
If, to use a figure that must not be pressed too hard, Scripture is con- 
ceived as a recording of God's word, man-made but an authentic 
recording nevertheless, then we must remember that a recording is 
inert and silent until it is played and listened to: the Bible is simply 
a closed book until it is read with an open heart and a ready will. 
Scripture is not a body of abstract propositions that can be appre- 
hended in intellectual detachment. It is God's summons to man, and 
only when it is heard in the context of present experience can it be- 
come an active force in life once more and impel men to make them- 
selves the means whereby the redemptive history which it records is 
carried one step further according to the purposes of God. Revela- 
tion is a call to present decision and a guide to present action. 13 So 
appropriated, it becomes an existential power because it transmutes 
the past into the present and thus drives it to the future. "When the 
past is made to function as a project for the future, tradition itself 
becomes a form of prophecy. Past and future are welded into one 
on the forge of life." 14 

Revelation, as we have so far discussed it, is obviously "special" 
revelation: it is understanding derived from God's self -disclosure to, 
and in the history of, Israel. But is there not a more "general" revela- 
tion, a knowledge of God freed from all particular contexts and ac- 
cessible to all men simply as men? Do not the heavens declare the 
glory of God to all alike? Is there not something in the human reason, 
conscience or imagination that can, if only he is willing to follow up 
the clue, lead man to God? And if there is such a "general" revela- 
tion, of what ultimate need or significance is the very different kind 
of revelation to which Scripture testifies? 

These questions are extraordinarily hard to answer, for a distinction 

The Mystery of Israel 253 

must be made between man in his essential nature and man in his 
''fallen" existential condition, and if this distinction is but for a 
moment lost sight of, everything is in danger of collapsing into utter 

Taking man in his essential nature as he leaves the hand of his 
Creator let us think of man in Paradise it cannot be denied that 
he possesses the capacity, simply as man, somehow to know God and 
his ways. For man is made for loving fellowship with God, and such 
fellowship implies the direct knowledge of personal relation. Hence 
Scripture depicts Adam in familiar intercourse with the Deity and 
enjoying full knowledge of his environment. 15 Yet it is a notorious 
fact that men, in their actual existence, do not of their own wisdom 
know the Living God and that even their efforts to prove the existence 
of a "supreme being" seem to lead nowhere. What is the source of 
this defect in actual human reason that somehow bars it from inde- 
pendent knowledge of ultimate reality? 

The defects of reason, which are felt in all its operations, seem to 
be of two orders, relating respectively to man's creatureliness and to 
his sinful existence in the world. As a result of his creatureliness, his 
view of things is irremediably conditioned by his particular position 
in the universe, so that everything he sees he sees from his special 
perspective. Even if he could, as the idealist philosophers pretend, 
rethink God's thoughts, these thoughts would necessarily be rela- 
tivized, and hence to some degree falsified, by his creaturely par- 
ticularity. But much more important are the factors of the second 
order the effects of sin. Our sinful egocentricity distorts and per- 
verts everything in the interests of the self and its idols. Schechter 
refers to the rabbinical teaching that "it [was] sin which made Israel 
deaf so that they could not hear the words of the Torah and blind 
so that they could not see the glory of the Shechinah." 16 Sin blinds 
and makes deaf; it ideologizes and falsifies. These effects of sin on 
the human mind are pervasive; nothing in thought or experience is 
immune. If it were to their compelling self-interest to think of twice 
two as five, Hobbes says, men would very soon come to do so, and 
we, who are familiar with Marx and Freud, can appreciate the point 
of this remark. Yet while the effects of sin are pervasive, they do not 
touch all aspects of human thought alike. "The competence of 

2S4 Judaism and Modern Man 

reason," Brunner writes, "is a graduated one: the reason is more 
competent to know the world than to know man; it is better able to 
discern the bodily than the spiritual quality of man. . ," 17 This is not 
due simply to the allegedly greater complexity of the subject matter; 
it is due primarily to the fact that the "objective" human reason be- 
comes increasingly obscured and perverted by sin as it approaches 
closer and closer to the inner "subjective" core of existence. When 
it becomes a matter of authentic knowledge of God, and therefore 
of authentic knowledge of man, the incapacity of the unaided human 
reason is only too obvious. 

Yet since man's essential nature, however obscured, is never en- 
tirely destroyed by sin, man remains homo religiosus, always "search- 
ing" for God in the sense of constantly striving to relate his being to 
something ultimate beyond himself. But when he tries to find God 
through his own powers, he invariably lapses into idolatry, for his 
sinful egocentricity impels him to set up and "discover" gods after 
his own heart. His natural religiosity leads man not to the Living 
God but at best to some sort of pantheism in which the totality of 
being, with which one's own being is somehow merged, is felt to be 
suffused with divinity and therefore identified with God. On this 
level, the "natural light" of human reason is not merely insufficient; 
it is actually delusive. 

Idealism, which claims for man a knowledge of God through 
reason, overlooks both the creatureliness and the sinful perversion of 
the human mind. In the idealist view, man not only retains unmarred 
his perfection of before the fall, but he is even somehow able to free 
himself, at least in thought, from his creaturely limitations. Phi- 
losophy thus becomes, as Jaspers points out, "the way of man's self- 
assertion through thinking." 18 In its extreme form, this type of 
spiritual pretension easily passes over into mysticism, in which all 
distinction between the human and the divine is wiped out. 

Skepticism and positivism, on the other hand, tend to take the 
existential limitations of human reason for its essential nature. It 
has "some perception of the truth that man cannot know God by his 
own efforts, that all rational knowledge of God is in the highest degree 
hypothetical and uncertain. . .The positivist is not prejudiced or 'crazy' 
about any metaphysical system. . .He has a feeling for the arrogance 

The Mystery of Israel 255 

of all rational metaphysical systems, and he has something of the 
modesty of one who is aware that he is not sufficient for these 
things." 19 But since he has no inkling of man's true origin or destiny, 
the positivist, too, soon converts his critical reserve into a "way of 
self-assertion through thinking" by erecting it into an absolute dogma 
from the vantage point of which he wages war upon all those who 
dare go beyond his doctrinaire bounds. Where the idealist cannot 
concede that any aspect of reality is inaccessible to human reason, 
the positivist, confronted with the incompetence of the usual methods 
of empirical science in dealing with the ultimate realities of existence, 
simply denies that they are realities. Neither understands the full 
complexity of the human situation and hence neither is capable of 
grasping the actual problem of religious knowledge. 

While, therefore, we cannot deny "general" revelation in principle, 
we must emphatically reject its possibility in fact, for though God 
is everywhere to be discerned in his person, activity and works, the 
mind of sinful man is incapable of finding him through its own un- 
aided powers. The heavens do indeed declare the glory of God, but 
only to those who have eyes to see. To those whose eyes are blinded 
by sin and unbelief and what is sin but unbelief? the heavens say 
nothing but what is already in their mind and heart. 

Reinhold Niebuhr, it seems to me, has pushed the possibility of 
"general" revelation just about as far as it will go without losing its 
biblical basis, and it is instructive to see what this "general" revela- 
tion becomes in his thinking. It is reflected, he says, both in philo- 
sophical speculation about the world and in "the sense of being 
confronted with a 'wholly other' at the edge of human consciousness," 
which latter he calls "private revelation" and which he finds to be 
"not so much a separate experience as an overtone implied in all 
experience." "Private revelation" in this sense possesses three aspects: 
"the sense of reverence for a majesty and of dependence upon an ulti- 
mate source of being;" "the sense of moral obligation laid upon one 
from beyond oneself and of moral unworthiness before a judge;" and 
"the longing for forgiveness." 20 In each of these aspects, the mind 
points to something beyond, but it is utterly incapable of discovering 
for itself what it is to which it points. It is only in the "special" 
revelation of biblical faith that the " 'wholly other' at the edge of 

256 Judaism and Modern Man 

human consciousness' 9 is recognized as the Living God and is seen 
to be related to the three aspects of "private revelation" as Creator, 
Judge and Redeemer. Without the light afforded in Scripture, how- 
ever, man's effort to transcend self and reach what is beyond inevitably 
results in the conversion of the "wholly other" into an idolatrous god 
after his own heart. 

Yet though human reason cannot find God or think out the ultimate 
truth about existence, it has its indispensable uses in the religious life. 
Our capacity to receive the word of God in revelation our "capacity 
of the word" is grounded in reason, which is one of the aspects of 
the divine image in which we are made. Our very ability to formulate 
our insights is a power of reason. But however necessary, reason in 
the religious life remains subsidiary to revelation. The saving truth 
is not the excogitation of our rational powers but the self -disclosure 
of God. 

"The Torah speaks in the language of men." What the Torah 
speaks about transcends nature and experience, but the "language 
of men" is a language borrowed from nature and experience. We 
are compelled to speak of a multidimensional reality in die vocabulary 
of our limited understanding. Every statement we make is therefore 
necessarily going to be symbolic conveying truth, but false if taken 
literally. "The eternal is revealed and expressed in the temporal," 
Niebuhr reminds us, "but is not exhausted in it. . .The temporal 
process is like a painter's flat canvas. It is one dimension upon which 
two dimensions must be recorded. This can be done only by symbols 
which deceive for the sake of the truth." 21 Religious thinking, there- 
fore, is inherently paradoxical since it can express its insights only 
in a form that must appear to self-consistent reason as contradictory 
and "absurd." The rabbinical pronouncement, "All is foreseen but 
freedom of choice is given," 22 tells the truth about existence, but it 
tells it necessarily in a way that is offensive to simple rationality. And 
yet paradox itself is at bottom a device of reason, for paradox reflects 
"a rational understanding of the limits of rationality, an expression of 
faith that a rationally irresolvable contradiction may point to a truth 
which logic cannot contain." 28 

Is biblical revelation, then, rational or is it contrary to reason? 

The Mystery of Israel 257 

If reason as it appears in sinful (idolatrous) man is absolutized and 
made the ultimate criterion of truth, then, of course, the biblical 
revelation is irrational. But this very self-absolutization of reason is 
in another sense itself irrational, for it refuses to see that this kind 
of reason is totally inadequate to do justice to the depth and com- 
plexity of human existence. On the other hand, biblical revelation, 
for all its paradox, and precisely because of its paradox, may well be 
said to represent a higher rationality in the sense that "it acknowledges 
a center and source of meaning beyond the limits of rational intelli- 
gibility, partly because it 'rationally' senses the inadequacy or idola- 
trous character of centers and sources of meaning which are within 
the limits of rational intelligibility." 24 From the standpoint of a 
reason unspoiled by sin and idolatry, the paradox and "absurdity" 
of revelation might well appear to be the height of rationality, al- 
though even in this case, the creaturely limitations of the human mind 
would preclude it from a comprehensive grasp of ultimate truth and 
always leave something beyond its range of intelligibility. 

Why is it that modern man finds it so difficult to "accept" revela- 
tion? Is it simply because there is so much bad science in the Bible, 
or that our intellectual sophistication does not permit us to "believe" 
so many of the things the Bible tells us? Perhaps; but let us remem- 
ber that modern man has shown himself quite capable of believing 
the most extraordinary "unscientific" absurdities when they have come 
to him as part of the gospel of communism or nazism or secular hu- 
manism. There is nothing men will not believe in support of what 
they want to believe, and the man of today, for all his alleged sophisti- 
cation, is no exception. As a matter of fact, resistance to the word of 
God is no monopoly of the modern mind. Men have always been 
impelled to reject it, as the Bible itself bears striking witness. And 
in rejecting it, they have always employed arguments and justifications 
that have seemed conclusive in terms of the culture of the time. The 
Greeks had their philosophy and we have our science, and even when, 
as in the Middle Ages, conformity was the rule, human ingenuity had 
its devices was not a certain type of legalistic or scholastic theology 
precisely such a device? by which the impact of the biblical word 
could be blunted and turned aside. No, we need not be too much im- 

258 Judaism and Modern Man 

pressed by the protestations of intellectual scrupulosity on the part of 
the modern unbeliever. 

The fact of the matter seems to be that the modern unbeliever re- 
fuses to believe for the same basic reason that the unbelievers of all 
ages have refused: the biblical word is a decisive challenge to his 
pretensions to self-sufficiency and to all the strategies that he has de- 
vised to sustain them. Modern man is ready to "accept" revelation 
if that revelation is identified with his own intellectual discovery or 
poetical intuition. But with the revelation that comes from beyond 
to shatter his self-sufficiency, to expose the dereliction of his life and 
to call him to a radical transformation of heart, with that revelation 
he will have nothing to do. 

The resistance to revelation is a resistance to the exposure of the 
idolatries by which we live. It is resistance to a truth which is not 
after our heart, because our heart is turned inward in sinful egocen- 
tricity. It is, in a sense, true that man is always searching for God 
in the sense that he is always trying to relate his limited being to* 
something beyond. But it is also and perhaps even more importantly 
true that man is always fleeing from God, from the Living God who 
demands everything and will brook no idolatrous self-absolutization 
In fleeing from God, he naturally flees from the revelation that is the 
word of God. 

The standard device by which men in all ages have protected them- 
selves against the word of God in revelation is "objectivity." They 
declare themselves ready to examine the claims of revelation "ob- 
jectively," and having put themselves in that relation to it, inevitably 
reject it. "There are objects," Tillich points out, "for which the so- 
called 'objective' approach is the least objective of all because it is 
based on a misunderstanding of the nature of its object. This is es- 
pecially true of religion. Unconcerned detachment in matters of re- 
ligion (if it is more than a methodological self-restriction) implies an 
a priori rejection of the religious demand to be ultimately concerned. 
It denies the object which it is supposed to approach objectively." 25 
Only those ready to "hear and obey" can understand. The power 
and truth of revelation are known only in the decision of faith. 

For in the end, revelation, faith and repentance converge. Only 
the repentant heart renewed in faith can receive the word of God in 

The Mystery of Israel 259 

revelation. Only the grace of God working within can overcome the 
resistance of idolatrous unbelief and open the mind to the saving truth 
of Scripture. To those still lost in the devices of their own hearts, 
the Bible can mean nothing, however frequently it is read and how- 
ever assiduously it is studied. Biblical truth, despite the rationalist 
theologians, carries no external "objective" proofs; it must prove it- 
self in the life of the believer or it cannot prove itself at all. The au- 
thenticity of revelation is existentially guaranteed by the Living God 
who is encountered within it. When thus inwardly appropriated, it 
discloses a significance for human existence that neither science nor 
philosophy of itself can achieve. 

But science and philosophy, too, are not left untouched. They 
also are transformed. By a shift in basic presuppositions, in which 
the distortion of human self-centeredness is set right, the findings of 
philosophy and science here we have the so-called "human" or social 
sciences primarily in mind are seen in a new perspective and are 
interpreted in a new and more profound way. Through this change 
of perspective, we are enabled to integrate the knowledge that science 
gives us about man into a total framework that encompasses a vision 
of his origin, his nature and his destiny. Our thinking is no longer 
held down to the flat plane of naturalism or idealism to which every- 
thing is reduced when, in one form or the other, man is made ultimate 
in the universe. A new dimension of reality and meaning a vertical 
dimension of relation to God is disclosed. Because faith itself im- 
plies the reorientation of life toward God, so the new insight into 
reality gained through faith results in the reconstruction of all knowl- 
edge on a theonomous basis. It is not new information about empirical 
things that revelation brings that is not its purpose but a new 
center and a new perspective in terms of which whatever knowledge 
we have may be related to the ultimate truth about existence. 


1. Martin Buber, "The Man of Today and the Jewish Bible," Israel and the 
World (Schocken: New York, 1948), p. 94. 

260 Judaism and Modern Man 

2. Paul S. Minear, Eyes of Faith: A Study in the Biblical Point of View 
(Lutterworth: London, 1948), p. 59. 

3. Emil Brunner, Revelation and Reason (Westminster: Philadelphia, 
1946), p. 8. 

4. Otto J. Baab, The Theology of the Old Testament (Abingdon-Cokes- 
bury: Nashville, Term., 1949), p. 120. 

5. Norman H. Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament (West- 
minster: Philadelphia, 1946), p. 48. 

6. Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed tr. by Friedlander (Dutton: 
New York, 1904), Part I, chap, liv, p. 75. 

7. "Since the Prophets realized the exaltation of God over creation, the 
faith had in it the element of reverential agnosticism." W. A. L. Elmslie, 
How Came our Faith (Cambridge University: Cambridge, 1948), p. 377. 

8. Buber, "The Man of Today and the Jewish Bible," Israel and the 
World, p. 89. 

9. This is the thesis of Buber's The Prophetic Faith. 

10. Franz Rosenzweig, Briefe (Schocken: Berlin, 1935), pp. 581-82. 

11. B. Kidd. 17b, and elsewhere. This statement is generally found in a 
halakic context to support a principle of interpretation. 

12. H. Richard Niebuhr, The Meaning of Revelation (MacMillan: New 
York, 1946), pp. 93, 110. 

13. "Revelation is inseparable from demand for immediate decision." 
Minear, op. cit., p. 132. 

14. Fritz Kaufmann, "The World as Will and Representation," Philoso- 
phy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. IV (March, 1944), No. 3. 

15. This is suggested by Adam's "naming" the animals (Gen. 2:19-20), 
for the "name" means knowledge and power. 

16. Solomon Schechter, Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (Macmillan; 
New York, 1909), p. 238. 

17. Brunner, Man in Revolt (Westminster: Philadelphia, 1947), p. 529. 

18. Karl Jaspers, "Philosophy and Science," Partisan Review, Vol. XVI 
(September, 1949), No. 9. 

19. Brunner, Revelation and Reason, pp. 356-57. 

20. Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man (Scribner's: 
New York, 1941), I, 127, 131. 

21. Reinhold Niebuhr, Beyond Tragedy (Scribner's: New York, 1937). 
pp. 4, 5. 

22. M. Abot 3.19. 

23. Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, I, 262. 

24. Reinhold Niebuhr, Faith and History (Scribner's: New York, 1949), 
p. 119. 

'If human knowledge refuses to understand that there is something 
which it cannot understand, or more accurately, something about which 
it clearly understands that it can not understand it, then all is confusion." 

The Mystery o] Israel 261 

Soren Kierkegaard, Journals, tr. by Dru (Oxford: New York, 1938), No. 


25. Paul Tillich, The Protestant Era (University of Chicago: Chicago, 

1948), p. xi. 


"In Israel, all religion is history." 1 Hebraic religion is not a system 
of abstract propositions to be apprehended intellectually or some 
esoteric wisdom to be received in mystic illumination. Hebraic re- 
ligion is history, or rather it is faith enacted as history, not to be 
experienced, understood or communicated apart from that history. 
There is no Judaism without Abraham and Moses, without Egypt and 
Sinai; there is no Christianity without these and without Jesus and 
Calvary hi addition. The saving truth of Buddhism can be put in the 
form of a set of timeless statements about the source of human misery 
and the way to liberation; in Hebraic religion, the saving truth is the 
history of God's dealings with men in pursuit of his redemptive 
purpose. Hebraic religion is thus in essence Heilsgeschichte re- 
demptive history, which is at one and the same time the history of 
redemption and the history which redeems. Only by making our- 
selves part of this redemptive history, by making it our own, can we 
be saved. If salvation is by faith, it is because faith, from this point 
of view, is precisely the appropriation of redemptive history as one's 

The redemptive history which is Hebraic religion is the history of 
Israel interpreted as Heilsgeschichte. But though it is history of Israel, 
it is not merely history for Israel, as so much of modern nationalistic 
history is history for the favored nation. It is history for the world; 
indeed, hi a sense, it is history of the world the "true history of the 
world," Buber calls it. 2 If this history is Israel-centered, as of course 
it is, this is because at the very heart of Hebraic religion is the con- 
viction that, in a special and unique way, Israel is God's instrument 

262 Judaism and Modern Man 

for the redemption of the world. Mankind is the ultimate concern 
of redemptive history, and to that concern everything that relates to 
Israel, however large it may loom in Scripture and the rabbinical writ- 
ings, is entirely subsidiary. The redemptive history of Israel is history 
for the world because it is through that history that the world is to 
be redeemed. 

This is a bold indeed, some would say, brazen affirmation. All 
mankind, the entire universe, dependent for its salvation upon some 
particular history and upon the history of an obscure, insignificant 
people at that! Is not God equally the Father of all mankind? How 
then can it be claimed that he plays favorites among men and makes 
his grace available not in the form of rational truths or spiritual in- 
sights accessible to all, but in the form of a history embodying his 
dealings with a strange small folk stemming from a corner in the Near 
East? Would it not better agree with the universal character of deity 
if divine salvation were itself universal in the sense of being equally 
related to all men without regard to the trivial accidental divisions 
among mankind, which surely must mean nothing or less than nothing 
in the sight of God? 

This is the "scandal of particularity" which has offended high- 
minded men of all ages and has moved them to bitterness and ridicule 
in rejecting the "absurd" pretensions of Hebraic religion. Some 
eighteen hundred years ago, the pagan philosopher Celsus inveighed 
against the "irrational" claims of Jews and Christians in terms that 
awaken a distinct echo in the modern mind: 

Jews and Christians appear to me like a host of bats or ants 
who come out of their hiding places, or like frogs who sit in a 
swamp, or like worms who hold a meeting in the corner of a 
manure pile, and say to one another: "To us God reveals and 
proclaims everything. He does not trouble himself with the rest 
of the world; we are the only beings with whom he has deal- 
ings. . .To us is subjected everything: the earth, the water, the 
air, the stars. Because it has happened that some among us have 
sinned, God himself will come or will send his own Son in order 
to destroy the wicked with fire and to give us a share in 
eternal life. 8 

Of course, there is some unfairness and misunderstanding in this 
picture: it is not, for example, because "some of us" have sinned but 

The Mystery of Israel 263 

all mankind that God must judge and redeem. Yet, on the whole, we 
must admit that what Celsus in his invective charges to Jews and 
Christians is more or less what Judaism and Christianity in their au- 
thentic forms have affirmed. What sense can we make of so unintelli- 
gible an affirmation? 

Let us note that the "scandal of particularity," as it strikes the phi- 
losophic mind, contains two aspects: first, that the universal, "time- 
less" God should reveal himself and his redemptive purpose through 
time and history, which is particularity; and secondly, that the God 
of all mankind should arbitrarily select a particular group as the re- 
cipient of his revelation and the instrument of his redemptive purpose. 
Both assertions seem absurd and incredible to the philosophic mind 
but on rather different grounds and on rather different levels. 

The philosophic mind boggles at the notion of a universal God 
acting through the particularities of history because, on the one hand, 
as we have seen, it devaluates time and history, and, because, on the 
other, it conceives of the divine in essentially impersonal, intellectual 
terms. Universal ideas are impersonal, and if salvation is through 
ideas, then of course the particularistic claims of Hebraic religion are 
absurd on the face of it. But if salvation is through personal relation 
and action, as both Judaism and Christianity affirm, the matter takes 
on an altogether different aspect. Truly personal relations are never 
universal; they are always concrete and particular. And while an 
idea or a doctrine may be made available to all men universally and 
timelessly, action must necessarily be particular in the sense that it 
is action here and now, in reference to this particular person or group 
rather than to another. The Hebraic insistence on historical particu- 
larity is thus seen to be an essential aspect of what has been called 
the "Abrahamic postulate," the affirmation of a Living God operative 
in life and history, who meets man in personal encounter in the coo- 
text of life and history. Properly understood, the "scandal of particu- 
larity" is a scandal only to those for whom ultimate reality is neces- 
sarily timeless and impersonal. The rejection of particularity is at 
bottom a rejection of time and history and personality. 

If God is a Living God, operative in and through the particularities 
of history, then it no longer seems so strange that he should effect 
his purposes through particular groups of people or even that he should 

264 Judaism and Modern Man 

"create" particular groups for his special purposes. To ask the phi- 
losopher's question, "Why this group rather than that?" is to demand 
a universal rule by which the time-bound particularities of history 
may be rendered rationally intelligible and the will and purposes of 
God justified before the court of human reason. The idealistic re- 
jection of history and personality is thus supplemented by a rational- 
istic arrogance that would make reason, human reason, into the final 
law of the universe. To a mind consumed with such pretensions, par- 
ticularity, emphasizing the irreducible priority of God's will and the 
severe limitations placed upon human reason, must indeed seem in- 
tolerable. Celsus, who thought it almost obscene for Jews and 
Christians to speak about being "God's people" in some special way, 
is at one with Fichte, who insisted that "the metaphysical only and 
not the historical can give blessedness," 4 with Lessing, who in his 
inaugural address at Jena, confessed that for him "the particular facts 
of history cannot establish eternal truths," 5 and thus also with all the 
high-minded idealists of our time who spurn the biblical doctrines of 
revelation and election as a scandalous example of Jewish "ethnocen- 
trism." This is the stand of self-sufficient human reason, impatient 
of history and personality. Biblical faith, on the other hand, permeated 
with the inexpugnable particularity of existence, takes its stand on 
the affirmation: "Salvation is of the Jews." 6 

"Salvation is of the Jews" because the history of Israel, biblically 
understood, is the history of God's redemptive purpose with mankind. 
It is not history totally distinct from "general" or "secular" history 
and yet it is not identical with it. The difference is not so much in 
the events themselves, which, in large part, belong to both. The dif- 
ference is primarily in the point of view and interpretation. "Secular" 
history, even the most positivistic, has its schemes of redemption in 
terms of which it is written. These schemes I have in mind national- 
ism, progress, Marxism, humanism are not always explicit, but they 
are there. They are, as we saw in an earlier chapter, the exaltation 
of some fragmentary meaning to ultimate significance. The redemp- 
tive scheme of Hebraic religion, on the other hand, is a transcendent 
scheme, allowing no self-absolutization and keeping all partial truths, 

The Mystery of Israel 265 

even those represented by the elect community, under constant criti- 
cism and the judgment of God. That is why redemptive history claims 
to be "true history" in the fullest sense and to reveal the meaning of 
all history. It sees things from its own perspective, of course, and 
estimates them from its own scale of values, but this perspective and 
these values are not just one set among many. In a real sense, they 
include as a component something that emerges from the self- 
disclosure of God, and therefore they constitute a framework of ulti- 
mate meaning for all history. 

Redemptive history, and thus the existentially meaningful history 
of mankind, has its beginning in creation and its "end" in the final 
judgment and fulfilment to come. But both beginning and end as 
well as the entire course of history are themselves interpreted, as we 
noted in the last chapter, in terms of a crucial event, which may very 
justly be called the center of history. In Jewish faith, this event, or 
rather complex of events, is Exodus-Sinai. Exodus-Sinai, for Jewish 
faith, is the divine-human encounter par excellence, illumining and 
setting the pattern for all other encounters before and after. Exodus- 
Sinai is the crisis of crises in the history of Israel, the focal point in 
terms of which all earlier redemptive events are understood and from 
which all subsequent divine disclosures take their orientation. "I am 
the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt. . ." 
(Exod. 20:2; Deut. 5:6) is the introductory formula in the procla- 
mation of the Torah in which God makes his demands upon and 
reveals his gracious promises to Israel, and it remains henceforth 
the keystone of the entire structure of Jewish self-understanding. 

The Exodus [writes Rylaarsdaml was basic in the consciousness 
of Israel . . Jltl was of existential significance. . . For Israel, 
reality was laid bare in that bit of history. God revealed himself 
in it. It is the normative event. . .Yahweh redeemed Israel. . . 
This is the people by which he will fulfill his intention for all 
mankind. . .This is the perspective in terms of which the Exodus 
becomes the formative and guiding "event" in Israel's religious 
tradition. When we read, on to the end of the Old Testament, 
we find that all of it with the possible exception of such items 
as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, which omit reference to our his- 
torical locus of revelation is written as testimony to this per- 
spective that emerges from the Exodus event. 7 

266 Judaism and Modern Man 

In the view of Maimonides, as Baron points out, "the greatest 
event. . .was the 'giving of the Torah' [at Sinai], and the period pre- 
ceding it represents a kind of human prehistory." 8 So it is in the 
entire rabbinic literature. "The labor of Israel in seeking to under- 
stand [its history] has never been completed, being continued by the 
rabbis of an earlier and the present day; but the revelatory occasion 
and idea have remained constant 99 ; 9 that "occasion and idea" has 
always been recognized as Exodus-Sinai. 

What is it that Exodus-Sinai signifies in icdemptive history? In 
the first place, it shows forth, for the Jew, God's supreme act of re- 
demptive love, the paradigm of all of God's redemptive activity. It 
therefore establishes God's claim upon Israel, 10 and, at the same time, 
calls forth responsive love, for love, as Judah Halevi points out, 
originally comes from God, not from us. 11 We love with the love 
wherewith we are loved. In the second place, and directly as a con- 
sequence of God's redeeming act, Exodus-Sinai means the creation 
of the People Israel as God's covenant-folk. At Sinai, we are shown 
God by a mighty act of his providence forming a people which should 
be the bearer of his redemptive purpose. Second Isaiah represents 
God as the "creator" of Israel in a very special sense that refers not 
to the general act of creation at the beginning but to the bringing of 
Israel into being as an elect, a "gathered" community: "I the Lord 
am your Holy One, I the Creator of Israel am your King . . ." (Isa. 
43:15). And, according to Maimonides, the individual Israelites 
leaving Egypt had to be circumcised, baptized and brought to offer 
sacrifice had to be "newly born" like proselytes before they could 
come forth as truly the people of God. 12 All testimony and tradition 
converge to the same conclusion: "The Jews became a people by act 
of the Sinaitic revelation" 13 "Our people are only a people by virtue 
of its Torah." 14 Whatever the Israelites may have been when they 
came down as a family to Egypt, it was only Exodus-Sinai that created 
the People Israel. 

The formation of Israel as people is represented to us as the con- 
sequence of the gathering and binding power of the divine covenant 
into which God entered with Israel at Sinai. In this covenant, God 
"called" Israel by its "name" that is, chose it and made it his 
"portion" (Isa. 43:1); but he also gave Israel its Torah its Way 

The Mystery of Israel 267 

and its Law and laid upon it its vocation as his instrument in the 
divine scheme of redemption. Scripture and rabbinic tradition never 
tire of returning to the theme of Israel's election, 15 but there is little 
suggestion that the election came to Israel through any merits of its 
own; on the contrary, it "attributes the election to a mere act of grace 
or love on the part of God." 16 If there are tales in tradition which 
imply that Israel more or less willingly accepted the Torah and the 
covenantal obligations, there are also tales which state emphatically 
that Israel had to be threatened with extinction in order to make it 
yield to the demand of God. 17 Just as there is no flattering of the 
corporate vanity of Israel in its election, so is there none in what the 
election comes to mean in later teaching. The prophets use the election 
and covenant to bring down judgment upon Israel and to call it to un- 
conditional obedience "You only have I known among all the fami- 
lies of the earth; therefore will I visit upon you all your iniquities" 
(Amos 3:2) and the rabbis draw the conclusion from Israel's special 
relation to God that "there is no quality becoming Israel more than 
poverty" and suffering. 18 Biblical particularism may be Israel-centered, 
but it is poles apart from the mere projection of ethnic self-esteem. 
The election and vocation of Israel give it a unique role in world- 
history, but it is the role of Suffering Servant rather than of world 
conqueror. And yet, for all that, the covenant in which this vocation 
is grounded is a covenant of glory and salvation, for it promises ulti- 
mate vindication and fulfilment to all within the elect community who 
remain true to its obligations. 

Such is the central event in the redemptive history of Jewish faith. 
Everything before and everything after is interpreted in terms of this 
crucial event. Looking back, we find the people-creating covenant at 
Sinai foreshadowed in the calling of Abraham and the covenant with 
him and his descendants. And beyond the patriarchs, there are Noah 
and even Adam, with whom, too, in biblical-rabbinic tradition God 
formed his covenants covering all mankind. The covenant, indeed, 
becomes in biblical thought the paradigm for the interpretation of 
all experience. What we call the laws of nature are understood in 
the Bible as God's covenant with his creation, inanimate as well as 
animate. The stars move in their courses, day follows night and night 
day, the beasts of the field obey their masters, all in fulfilment of their 

268 Judaism and Modern Man 

covenants. 19 The covenant of election at Sinai is but the hub of a 
larger system of divine covenants by which nature, life and history are 
maintained in their appointed ways. 

Forward beyond Sinai, too, the Exodus event and its covenant are 
normative in Jewish faith. The chroniclers recount the history of the 
tribes and kingdoms as a succession of revolts against the covenant 
and of returns under divine judgment. For the prophets, "the Exodus 
from Egypt is ... a decisive act of the living God in history and makes 
a kind of fixed point of reference for all discussions of his ways with 
his people." 20 In Amos, there is already a beginning of the prophetic 
emphasis on the deliverance from Egypt as the real point of departure 
in the career of Israel. Hosea, indeed, goes back to the patriarchal 
period, but for him this period is essentially a kind of "prenatal" anti- 
cipation; Israel was really born in the exodus from Egypt: "When 
Israel was a child, I loved him, and from Egypt I called my son . . ." 
(Hos. 11:1). We find the same note in Jeremiah, where the deliver- 
ance from Egypt becomes the prototype of the coming redemption. 21 
But it is surely in the latter part of Isaiah that this theme receives its 
most exalted treatment. Second Isaiah goes back in his vision of his- 
tory to the creation of the world and the very beginning of time. He 
mentions Noah as well as Abraham. But the crucial event in God's 
dealings with his people is defined as the deliverance from Egypt. The 
entire destiny of Israel is reinterpreted by this great prophet in terms 
of the covenant promises and the world-redemptive vocation of the 
covenant-people. In the eschatological visions of the prophets and 
later teachers, the great fulfilment at the "end" is seen not only as the 
restoration of the primal harmonies of creation but also as the realiza- 
tion of the promises of the covenant with Israel. 

This covenant expresses as no conceptual formula can the unity 
and tension of the universalistic and particularistic elements in the 
vocation of Israel: it is a covenant with Israel and for Israel, yet for 
Israel only because, through Israel, it is destined for the world. "As 
the Rabbis expressed it, it is only 'with the redemption of Israel that 
the Kingdom of Heaven will be complete.' Israel is the microcosm in 
which all the conditions of the Kingdom are to find concrete expres- 
sion." 22 Yet when the vocation of Israel is finally and completely ful- 
filled in the Kingdom of God at the "end," Israel will lose its reason 

The Mystery of Israel 269 

for existence and all mankind will again be one. 28 "The election of 
Israel was never meant to be a thing in itself, but as a first step toward 
the realization of the Kingdom of God on this earth. Israel is only 
'the first fruit of his increase' (Jer. 2:3). Thus Jewish existence is in- 
dissolubly linked with that final goal. Its meaning lies in, and its jus- 
tification derives from, the never-ceasing work of preparation for ... 
the malkut shamayim (Kingdom of Heaven)." 24 All this is compre- 
hended as in potentiality and promise in the covenant at Sinai. 28 

Apart from the context of its redemptive history, the very being of 
Israel is a blank mystery and its history an anomaly without sense or 
meaning. For if we consider Jewish existence in its full concreteness, 
it is impossible to deny Carl Mayer's conclusion that "the Jewish 
people represent a sociologically unique phenomenon and defy all 
attempts at general definition." 26 "The existence of Israel," Buber 
agrees, "is something unique, unclassifiable. This name . . . marks 
the community as one that cannot be grasped in the categories of so- 
ciology or ethnology." 27 Being a Jew does not in itself mean belong- 
ing to a particular race or to a particular nation or to a particular 
culture or even to a particular religious denomination. Many and 
diverse "racial" strains are to be found among Jews; Jews have the 
most varied national origins, allegiances and cultures; and even those 
Jews who renounce the Jewish religion, or religion in general, some- 
how remain Jews. Yet though we must recognize that Jewishness is 
neither a racial nor a national nor a cultural nor a religious fact, we 
cannot deny that somehow each of these factors is in some way 
relevant to it. But what Jewish existence is does not emerge from any 
of them singly, nor from any combination of them, nor even from all 
of them taken together. The "secret" of Jewish existence is obviously 
something that transcends these or any other categories which the 
social scientist is able to devise. "The continued existence of the 
Jews ... has been called a contradiction in terms. At any rate, the 
phenomenon does not fit into any of the usual patterns idealistic 
or positivistic by which we try to read the pages of history." 28 

Calling the Jews a "people" does not in itself illumine the problem. 
For if "people" is used in the familiar sense in which we speak of the 
"American people" or the "French people," it obviously does not 

270 Judaism and Modern Man 

apply to the Jews: one may be a Jew and a Frenchman or American 
at the same time, which would be impossible were the term "people" 
used in the same sense in both contexts. And if the term as it applies 
to Jews is used in a different and unique sense, it does not in itself tell 
us anything about the nature of Jewish existence. The term "people" 
may, of course, be employed, but it has to be defined in some funda- 
mental way or else it will possess no meaning and merely serve to 
confuse and obscure. the real problem. 

Nor does it get us very far to speak of the "plural sources" of Jew- 
ishness, as do so many secular "survivalists" of our day. Granted that 
one or another aspect of Jewish existence may be most prominent in 
Jewish life in a particular time or situation, the question still remains 
as to what unites all the varied forms of existence under the one cate- 
gory of "Jewishness" and permits us to speak of phenomena that 
apparently have nothing in common, as if they were all manifesta- 
tions of a single reality. If Jewish existence is really and irreducibly 
plural, then it is not one, and the term "Jewish existence" or "Jewish- 
ness" is meaningless. If, on the other hand, this term is held to possess 
meaning, it must point to a reality that transcends and underlies all 
"plural" manifestations. 

What is this reality? It is clearly not something that can be indi- 
cated or defined in purely naturalistic, purely scientific terms. Every 
attempt to give meaning to the concept of Jewishness in such terms 
must necessarily end in failure and lead to the conclusion that the 
concept is empty of intrinsic content and really refers to a "nothing" 
generated out of a persistent and rather malignant delusion on the 
part of Jew and non-Jew alike. This, in essence, is Sartre's view and 
Koestler's, too, 29 and it has been held, in more or less sophisticated 
forms, by a considerable number of people in modern times. It is 
essentially the conclusion reached by the anthropologist, Melville J. 
Herskovits, in his study, "Who Are the Jews": 

It is apparent that it is neither race, nor such an aspect of 
physical type as nasality, nor a "Jewish look," that affords terms 
in which the question, "Who are the Jews?" is to be an- 
swered In like manner, language, culture, belief all exhibit 

so great a range of variation that no definition cast in terms of 
these concepts can be more than partial. Yet the Jews do 

The Mystery of Israel 271 

represent a historic continuum, have survived as an identifiable, 
yet constantly shifting series of groups. Is there any least com- 
mon denominator other than the designation "Jew" that can be 
found to mark the historical fait accompli that the Jew, how- 
ever defined, seems to be? It is seriously to be questioned 80 
(my emphasis. W. H.). 

On a naturalistic basis, no other conclusion is possible. 

Jewish existence acquires meaning only in terms of the categories 
that emerge from the biblical-rabbinic faith. In the normative bibli- 
cal-rabbinic view, as we have seen, Israel is not a "natural" nation; 
indeed, it is not a nation at all like the "nations of the world." It is 
a supernatural community, called into being by God to serve his 
eternal purposes in history. It is a community created by God's special 
act of covenant, first with Abraham, whom he "called" out of the 
heathen world and then, supremely, with Israel corporately at Sinai. 
Jewish tradition emphasizes the unimportant and heterogeneous char- 
acter of the People Israel apart from God's gracious act of election, 
which gives it the significance it possesses in the scheme of world 
destiny. The covenant of election is what brought Israel into existence 
and keeps it in being; apart from that covenant, Israel is as nothing 
and Jewish existence a mere delusion. The covenant is at the very 
heart of the Jewish self-understanding of its own reality. 

We miss the entire meaning of the covenant as understood in 
biblical-rabbinic thought if we imagine it as something that depends 
for its power and reality upon the voluntary adherence of the indi- 
vidual Jew. The covenant, in biblical-rabbinic faith, is not a private 
act of agreement and affiliation; it is not a contract that becomes valid 
only when the individual Jew signs it. Indeed, the individual Jew 
would not be a Jew at all in any intelligible sense were he not already 
under the covenant. The covenant is an objective supernatural fact; 
it is God's act of creating and maintaining Israel for his purposes in 

What are these purposes? What is the vocation of the covenant- 
folk? These questions bring us to the heart of the "mystery of Israel." 

"You shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" 
(Exod. 19:6) : that is the basic formula in which the election and voca- 

272 Judaism and Modern Man 

tion of Israel are defined. Taken in its fulness, as it is developed in 
subsequent thought, this commission may be seen to imply a triple 
task: to receive and to cherish the Torah of God; to hear and to obey 
his voice in loving service and thus to live a holy life in a holy com- 
munity under his kingship; and to be a "light to the gentiles" by show- 
ing forth God's greatness and goodness as well as by an active effort 
to bring the peoples of the world to acknowledge the Holy One of 
Israel. In a word, in inward life, corporate existence and outgoing 
service, to "sanctify the Name" and to stand witness to the Living God 
amidst the idolatries of the world. 

This is hardly the place to undertake an examination of the vast 
and crucial subject of the significance of Christianity from the Jewish 
point of view and its relation to Judaism. In the context of our dis- 
cussion, we may, however, note that Christianity arose, at a great 
crisis in Israel's history, as an outgoing movement to bring the God 
of Israel to the gentiles by bringing the gentiles into the covenant, 
What Solomon Grayzel defines as Paul's intention may very properly 
be extended to cover the basic intention of Christianity: "He so 
broadened the term 'Jew' as to include in it, as an honorable fellow- 
ship, all those who transformed their lives by being faithful Chris- 
tians." 31 The "divine role" of Christianity as "Israel's apostle" and 
carrier of the "divine truth to the nations of the world" is emphasized 
by A. A. Neuman in his description of the age-old "Jewish dream for 
the future of humanity." 82 But it is perhaps Franz Rosenzweig whose 
thought on this subject is most profound and fruitful. Israel so his 
position has been summarized 88 "can bring the world to God only 
through Christianity. [But] Christianity. . . could not long remain 
an effective force for redemption if Israel did not remain in its 
midst." 34 And in the following pregnant words, he defines the twin 
vocations of Israel and the Church as covenant-communities: "Israel 
to represent in time the eternal Kingdom of God, Christianity to bring 
itself and the world toward that goal." 36 So defined, the functions 
of Judaism and Christianity in the divine economy are seen to be 
organically related 38 part of one vocation and yet irreducibly 
different in their orientations: Judaism looking inward to the Jews; 
Christianity looking ever outward to the gentiles, who, through it, 
are brought to the God of Israel. 87 

The Mystery of Israel 273 

Fundamentally, therefore, the vocation of the People Israel con- 
tinues the same, for all the change, after the emergence of Christianity 
as it was before. Even for the outgoing function of the conversion 
of the gentiles, Israel remains indispensable, though now indirectly 
so. The primary and basic aspects of the vocation, the heart of the 
divine purpose in the calling of Israel the "sanctification of the 
Name" remains pre-eminently and irreplaceably the responsibility 
of Israel. To receive and to cherish the Torah of God, to live a holy 
life under his ever-present kingship, to stand witness to his word 
against the idolatries of the world: these are the functions for which 
Israel is appointed. That this vocation involves suffering and martyr- 
dom all history testifies; how could it be otherwise? "[God] chose 
Israel" so Dr. Finkelstein defines the Jewish teaching "to be his 
suffering servant, to bear persecution with patience, and by precept 
and example to bring his word to all the peoples of the world." 88 
Such remains the God-appointed vocation of Israel until the "last 

Anti-Semitism is the other side of the election and vocation of 
Israel. However it may express itself on the social, economic, cultural 
and political levels, whatever may be its involvement with other factors 
in the ongoing life of society, anti-Semitism is, at the bottom, the revolt 
of the pagan against the God of Israel and his absolute demand. This 
was obvious in pre-Christian anti-Semitism, but it is equally true of 
anti-Semitism in the Christian world, where "hatred of Judaism is at 
bottom hatred for Christianity." 39 That is how Rosenzweig under- 
stood anti-Semitism "Whenever the pagan within the Christian soul 
rises in revolt against the yoke of the Cross, he vents his fury on the 
Jew" 40 and that is how the most penetrating modern thinkers, Jew- 
ish and Christian, have understood it. "It is of Christ that the [anti- 
Semites] are afraid . . .Therefore they. . . make their assault on those 
who are responsible for the birth and spread of Christianity. They 
spit on the Jews as Christ-killers because they long to spit on them as 
Christ-givers." 41 "We reject the Jews in order to reject Jesus as the 
Christ. Hatred of the Jews is a result of our hatred of Christ." 42 
"Hatred of Jews and hatred of Christians spring from a common 
source, from the same recalcitrance of the world. . . That is why the 

274 Judaism and Modern Man 

bitter zeal of anti-Semitism always turns in the end into bitter zeal 
against Christianity itself." 48 "Western civilization, which represents 
the wedding of Greco-Roman culture with Hebraic culture, has ever 
since been trying to effect a divorce. Hebraism, as a prophetic and 
transcendent view of history, has made it difficult for our Western 
civilization to rest lightly in its pretensions. Anti-Semitism is our 
answer. . . . Destroy the symbol of Hebraic culture, and the uncertainty 
of our conscience as well as the reality of our guilt are obliterated. Re- 
sisting our destiny, we must destroy those who call that destiny to mind. 
Until we surrender to that destiny, the Jew will not be safe. . .The 
Jew is always the enemy of an idolatrous culture." 44 But it is Houston 
Stewart Chamberlain, the forerunner of modern neo-pagan anti- 
Semitism, who, in a burst of self-disclosure, puts the whole thing in 
one illuminating phrase: "The Jew came into our gay world and 
spoiled everything with his ominous concept of sin, with his Law and 
his Cross." 45 

Anti-Semitism is thus as "mysterious" as Israel itself, and like 
Israel it manifests itself in various changing historical forms. It is 
one of the ways the typical, symbolic way in which the pagan "gods 
of space" revenge themselves on the people of the "Lord of time" 
(Tillich). It stems from a tension, which, however much it may be 
reduced, diverted or suppressed, can never be entirely overcome 
until all history is overcome at the "end of days." 

Israel as covenant-folk is a superhistorical 48 community running 
through history but also transcending it. Baron well describes the 
prophetic conception of Israel as "the idea of a Jewish people beyond 
state and territory, a divine instrument in man's overcoming of 'nature' 
through a supernatural process in the course of 'history.' " 4T It is this 
duality in time and in eternity that is responsible both for the tension 
of "abnormality" in Jewish life and for its spiritual creativity. To try 
to overcome this tension, to try to "normalize" Jewish existence in 
any fundamental sense, means to try to make the People Israel "like 
unto the nations" and thus to rob it of its reason for existence. How- 
ever much confusion such efforts may produce, they cannot succeed, 
for they run counter to the divine purpose in the creation and election 
of Israel. 48 

The Mystery of Israel 275 

Israel lives in both time and eternity. The People Israel, eternal 
and superhistorical though it is, because it lives and acts in history 
must always find some concrete embodiment in some particular his- 
torical form. Or rather it would be more accurate to say, various sec- 
tions of the covenant-folk find particular historical embodiments de- 
pending on time, place and circumstance sometimes as a nation, 
as once and now again in Palestine; sometimes as a national minority, 
as in eastern Europe for many centuries; sometimes as a self-con- 
tained cultural group, as formerly in the United States; sometimes as 
a religious "denomination," though paradoxically including nonre- 
ligious Jews as well, as in this country today. 49 But whatever be the 
particular forms of Jewish existence and I have, of course, mentioned 
only some they are all merely relative, transient and localized; un- 
derlying and yet transcending them is Israel as covenant-folk. Were 
it not for the continuing self-identity of Israel as covenant-folk, there 
would be no basis of existence for any of these particular communi- 
ties as Jewish communities and no bond of unity among them. Beyond 
all historical communities with their particular histories, there is Israel 
and its redemptive history, without which Jewish existence is nothing 
at all. 

The concept of the covenant governs Israel's relations to Zion as 
well. As covenant-folk Israel has no native land. The individual Jew, of 
course, has his nation and his land, whether it be France, America or 
the new State of Israel; but Israel as covenant-folk is bound to no 
land, not even to the Holy Land. As Ignaz Maybaum points out, 50 
when in the Wilderness the Israelites were told to place the Ark, the 
visible symbol of the divine Presence and covenant, in a tabernacle, 
they were forbidden to remove the staves that were used to carry it: 
"The staves shall be in the rings of the Ark; they shall not be taken 
out" (Exod. 25:15). Even after Canaan had been conquered, and 
a great empire established under David and Solomon, even after a 
magnificent Temple had been erected in which the Ark was to be "per- 
manently" lodged, the staves were still not to be removed (I Kings 
8:8). Israel was indeed in possession of the Land, but it was not 
fixed to it: it stood ever ready to take up the Ark and begin its wander- 
ings anew. Under judgment of the Lord of history and in loyalty to 

276 Judaism and Modern Man 

him, it could make no concessions to the "gods of space." 

Yet Zion is the Land of Israel, not its native but its promised land. 
The bond between Israel and Zion, despite all dispersion and separa- 
tion, is a theme that runs through the entire body of Scriptural and 
rabbinic writings. The destiny of Israel begins and ends with Zion: 
it is the land to which, in the beginning, God called Abraham and to 
which he led the children of Israel from out of Egypt; it is also the 
land to which, in the final fulfilment of the Messianic Age, the People 
Israel will be restored. But between the beginning and the end, there 
is the "great parenthesis" when Jewish existence and Jewish destiny 
are irremediably dual, centering around both Zion and the Galut. 
These two aspects are to be related as two poles or foci in dialectic 
tension with each other, each functioning as a norm and balance for 
the other. Each has its own characteristic strength and weakness, its 
own peculiar needs and resources. In a sense, the two complement 
each other, but the tension between them can never be resolved in 

This duality of existence is naturally reflected in a differentiation 
of the vocation of Israel in the Land and in the Galut. In the Land, 
the Jews are called upon to establish their national life so that the 
opportunity may be given to build toward the "true community" en- 
joined by the divine law, a community in which what Moore describes 
as the "ideal of the religion of Israel" "a society where all the re- 
lations of men to their fellows [are] governed by die principle, 'Thou 
shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, " 51 can be given some measure 
of concrete embodiment. For that, political independence, or at least 
a high degree of autonomy, is obviously required. Here Buber finds 
the reason and justification for the kind of Zionism he espouses, 
which he believes to be in full harmony with Jewish religious tradition. 
"At that time," he writes, in an open letter to Gandhi vindicating 
the Zionst idea, "we did not carry out that which was imposed upon 
us; we went into exile with our task unperformed; but the command 
[to set up a just way of life] remained with us and it has become 
more urgent than ever. We need our own soil in order to fulfill it; 
we need the freedom to order our own life. . ." 52 This may be granted, 
with a small warning perhaps against the dangers of utopianism. But 
it is necessary also to remember what even Buber sometimes tends 

The Mystery of Israel 211 

to forget, that there is an "unperformed task" for the Jew in the Galut 
as well, and will continue to be throughout history. The Dispersion 
came not only as a judgment upon Israel but also as a new way and 
a new field of service to God. 68 In 'the lands of the Diaspora, it is for 
the Jew by his word and deed, by his conduct as a man and a citizen, 
by his very being as a Jew, to "sanctify the Name" and to help redeem 
the evil time. It is for him to stand witness to the Living God against 
the dominant idolatries of the age wherever they may appear, in secu- 
lar or religious life, in his own community first of all. The testimony 
in life which the Jew by his very existence is called upon to give 
"Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One" is testimony 
that the world needs and must have, now more than ever and will 
never cease to need until all life is redeemed in the final fulfilment. 
And by the same token, "Jewish existence, in its ambiguity, strange- 
ness and inconceivability, must be understood as the most powerful 
expression of the fact that the world is not yet the kingdom of God." 54 
The Jew who is faithful to his calling must always be at odds with 
the life around him because the life around him is always making 
claims and pretensions that bring it into conflict with God. The Jew 
faithful to his calling is always "in a minority. . .He can hardly avoid 
putting a note of interrogation after every dogma or convention. . . ." B5 
This is basically as true for Palestine as for the rest of the world. The 
widely held view that a "full Jewish life" is possible only in the State 
of Israel seems to me to be radically false on two grounds. In the 
first place, it involves a drastic devaluation of some of the most signifi- 
cant periods of Jewish history, from the age of the Babylonian Talmud 
to the time of the Gaon of Vilna. But perhaps even more crucially, 
it seems to imply the notion that now at last in Palestine, since a 
"Jewish State" has been established, all "abnormalities" have been 
overcome and all tensions dissolved. This notion is utterly delusive; 
it does not reckon with the full dimensions of Jewish existence. The 
tensions and "abnormalities" of Jewish existence are due not merely 
to life in the Galut\ they are due also and more basically to the life 
of the Jew in the world, which is necessarily on two levels: on the 
supernatural level of the covenant-folk and on the natural level of the 
nation and society to which he belongs, whether it be the United 
States or the State of Israel. It is this antithesis between the Jew as 

278 Judaism and Modern Man 

Son of the Covenant and the Jew as citizen of his secular community 
that gives rise to the peculiar tension of Jewish existence. And this 
antithesis is basically no more overcome for the Jew in the State of 
Israel than in the United States, for the secular society of the State 
of Israel is no more to be simply identified with the covenant-com- 
munity than is any group of Jews elsewhere in the world. Not even 
in the state of Israel can the "self-alienation" of the Jew be finally 
overcome, for the State of Israel, however highly we may regard it, 
is, after all, but another communty of this world, whereas Israel tran- 
scends all historical communities of whatever sort. Even in the State 
of Israel, the Jew, insofar as he remains a true Son of the Covenant, 
must remain a man of two souls, a citizen of his community and an 
"alien of uneasy feet." 56 No institutional change or inner reconstruc- 
tion of the state in one direction or another can alter this fact. The 
Jew lives "more in time than in space"; he is "always on the way." 57 
Never in history can he settle down to rest, never can he be at ease 
in this world not even in Zion. 

Most American Jews feel, and I think very justly, that their bond 
with the State of Israel and its Jewish community is of unique and 
profound significance. But why? What is this bond? It is certainly 
not "racial" or national. Nor is it in any important sense cultural if 
that term is used with any precision. Just as little is it "religious" in 
the sense of adherence to the same religious denomination, for large 
numbers of the Jews of Israel have fallen away from the Jewish faith 
and are even its acknowledged opponents, and yet with them, too, 
we feel the tie that binds us to the others. The bond that unites us with 
the Jews of Israel and their national community goes far deeper. It 
is compounded, I think, of the solidarity which every Jew, whether 
he knows it or not, feels with his fellows under the covenant and of 
the deep and utterly nonnationalistic "love of Zion" that is so in- 
grained in Jewish spirituality and is itself an aspect of covenant- 
existence. These factors are operative in the lives of many Jews who 
make no conscious religious affirmation and in whom they come to 
expression in strange and often distorted and contradictory forms. 
But they are there, and it is out of them that, at bottom, is generated 
the tie, as unmistakable in its workings as it is hard to define, which 
binds the American Jew to the State of Israel and its Jewish com- 

The Mystery of Israel 279 

munity. It is perhaps fortunate that this tie should be grounded so 
deeply in Jewish existence, for it will certainly, in future days, have 
to stand the strain of diverging cultures and of different, perhaps con- 
flicting national concerns and interests. 

In all biblical and rabbinic visions of the "end," from the earliest 
to the last, Zion stands in the very center of the eschatological picture. 
"In the end of days it shall come to pass that the mountain of the 
Lord's house shall be established as the top of the mountains and it 
shall be exalted above the hills, and the peoples shall stream unto it, 
and many nations shall come and say: Come let us go up to the moun- 
tain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may in- 
struct us in his ways and that we may walk in his paths; for out of 
Zion shall come forth Torah, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" 
(Mic. 4: 1-2; Isa. 2: 1-3). 58 And from the first beginnings of dispersion, 
the "return" of Israel to Zion was made part of the fulfilment. Both, 
however, must be understood in their Messianic context; both the 
exaltation of Zion and the restoration of Israel are part of the "last 
things." "The idea of the kingdom [of God]," Schechter writes, "is 
so often closely connected with the redemption of Israel from exile, 
the advent of the Messiah and the restoration of the Temple as to be 
inseparable from it." 59 To interpret the establishment of the State of 
Israel as the beginning of the final "ingathering of the exiles" and 
the definitive dissolution of the Galut, as so many have done, seems 
to me to be but little short of false messianism and completely out of 
line with the tradition of faith. Yet while the Zion that is to be ex- 
alted as the "top of the mountains" to which all the peoples shall 
stream, is the Zion of the "new age" and thus a transfigured Zion, it 
is nevertheless the Zion we know, the Zion of the earth, that is to be 
thus transfigured. For Jewish faith is not only enacted historically; it 
is also, so to speak, oriented geographically. Jerusalem, an earthly city, 
is proclaimed to be the center of the Kingdom of Heaven: that is an- 
other aspect of the biblical particularity that is so hard and yet so 
indispensable for us to accept. 

While the vision of the "end" thus remains irreducibly particular- 
istic, it is also universal. For "on that day," all peoples shall stream 
to Zion, and the word of the Lord that shall go forth from Jerusalem 

280 Judaism and Modern Man 

shall come to all alike. The Torah which, when it was given to 
Israel, the rabbis tell us, was given in the wilderness, so that Israel 
might not think of it as its own "national" property 80 will "on that 
day" become in fact the possession of all mankind, redeemed and 
transfigured in a world itself redeemed and transfigured. Then at 
last will Israel disappear, its vocation fulfilled. For "in this world, 
men, through the promptings df the evil yetzer, have divided them- 
selves into various tongues (peoples). But in the world-to-come, they 
will agree with one accord to call on his name alone, as it is said: 
Tor then will I restore the speech of the peoples to a purified speech 
that they may all call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with 
one accord' (Zeph. 3:9)." 61 Thus the day of vindication and tri- 
umph of Israel is but the prelude to its dissolution into a redeemed 
mankind, at last at one with itself because it is at one with God. 

Such is the picture of the nature and destiny of Israel as seen from 
the perspective of biblical-rabbinic faith. It is the picture of a redemp- 
tive process set in a context of historical movement with a beginning, 
center and end. Each of us who makes this history his own is always 
at some point of the movement, looking back at the beginning, orient- 
ing himself toward the center, and looking forward to the end not 
as to some dim and distant event but as to the absolute future con- 
fronting him at every moment of existence with its promise and de- 
mand. It is a picture of a redemptive history transcending and yet 
including the "secular" history of mankind. 

The history of salvation, which is the authentic form of Hebraic 
faith, is the story of the gracious effort of God to bring a perverse and 
rebellious world back to the intent of creation through an elect com- 
munity set apart for that purpose. The operative instrumentality of 
salvation is the covenant with the elect community through which 
men may be restored to God and become heirs of the divine promises. 
Anyone may reach God to whom the grace of God goes out, but if 
it is truly the Holy One of Israel whom he reaches, it is in some way 
in and through the covenant with Israel. "The individual Israelite," 
says Richardson, "approaches God in virtue of his membership in the 
holy people. . .In the whole of the Bible, . . .there is no such thing 
as a private personal relationship between the individual and God 

The Mystery of Israel 281 

apart from his membership in the covenant-folk. 9 ' 62 The rabbinical 
writings and the liturgy are full of appeals to the covenanted grace of 
God as the only hope of salvation. 

Sovereign of all the worlds, Cso runs a memorable passage in the 
Morning Prayer! not because of our righteous acts do we lay 
our supplications before thee, but because of thine abundant 
mercies. What are we? What is our life? What is our piety? 
What is our righteousness? What is our power? . . . What can 
we say in thy presence, O Lord our God and God of our fathers? 
. . . Nevertheless, we are thy people, the sons of thy covenant, the 
children of Abraham thy friend, to whom thou didst promise 
on Mount Moriah. . ," 68 

The dynamic of the redemptive process thus proceeds in and 
through the covenant, through its inward realization and its outward 
extension until it covers all mankind. For this work, Jew and Christian 
have been appointed to co-operate in unity and in tension for the 
glory of the Living God to whom both owe their ultimate allegiance. 
Of course, the covenanted community in its mass is always sinning, 
always rebelling, but where many fall, there is always a remnant. God 
never leaves himself without those who will bear witness to his Name 
and perform representatively, as it were, the redemptive function of the 
entire community. 64 Who it is that at any time compose this saving 
remnant, we do not know; perhaps they do not themselves know, for 
where is there the saint who is conscious of his own saintliness? Every- 
thing remains hidden until the final clarification. But that they are 
there and at work, this we do know, for it is by them that we are 
sustained, the time is redeemed, and the world driven forward to that 
great day when the "peace of God" will reign here below as it does 
in heaven. 65 


1. Martin Buber, "Hasidism in Religion, 9 * Hasidism (Philosophical 
Library: New York, 1948), p. 199. 

2. Buber, 'The Man of Today and the Jewish Bible.*' Israel and the World 
(Schocken: New York, 1948), p. 94. 

282 Judaism and Modern Man 

3. Origen Against Celsus, iv 23. 

4. Quoted by H. R. Mackintosh, Types of Modern Theology (Nisbet: 
London, 1937), p. 110. 

5. Quoted by SSren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript 
(Princeton University: Princeton, N. J., 1944), p. 86. 

6. These are the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman (John 4:22). 
They represent, of course, the universal conviction of Jewish tradition. 

7. J. Coert Rylaarsdam, "Preface to Hermeneutics," Journal of Re- 
ligion t Vol. XXX (April, 1950), No. 2. 

"The Exodus, or deliverance from Egypt, is the central or focal point 
in Israelite history and faith." G. Ernest Wright, The Old Testament 
Against its Environment (SCM: London, 1950), pp. 49-50. 

8. S. W. Baron, "The Historical Outlook of Maimonides," Proceedings 
of the American Academy of Jewish Research, Vol. VI (1934-35), p. 103. 

9. H. Richard Niebuhr, The Meaning of Revelation (Macmillan: New 
York, 1946), p. 111. 

10. The deliverance from Egypt, the rabbis remind us, is mentioned as 
sanction in connection with every single commandment (Sifre, Num., 
Shelah, 115, 3 5a). He who violates a commandment is "as if he denied 
the going out of Egypt." Sifra 109c. 

11. "It has been taught us. . ., 'With eternal love thou lovest us,' so that 
we should bear in mind that it originally came from him, not from us." 
Judah Halevi, Kitab al Khazan, tr. by Hirshfeld (Richards: New York, 
1927), p. 115. 

12. Baron, op. cit., p. 25. 

13. Carl Mayer, "Religious and Political Aspects of Anti- Judaism," Jews 
in a Gentile World, ed. by Graebner and Britt (Macmillan: New York, 
1942), p. 314. 

14. Saadia Gaon, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions (Yale University: 
New Haven, Conn., 1948). Treatise III, chap, vii, p. 158. 

"If it had not been for the Torah, they [Israel] would not have differed 
from the nations of the world." Sifra 1 12c. 

15. "The notion of election always maintained in Jewish consciousness 
the character at least of an unformulated dogma. . . .There was hardly 
any necessity for the Rabbis to give any reasons for their belief in this 
doctrine, resting as it does on ample Biblical authority." Solomon 
Schechter, Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (Macmillan: New York, 
1909), pp. 57-58. 

16. Schechter, op. cit., p. 61. 

17. B. Shabbat 88a; B. Abod. Zar. 2b, and elsewhere. 

18. Schechter, op. dr., pp. 110, 309ff. 

19. "My covenant with the day and my covenant with the night." Jer. 
33:25. See also Jer. 8:7 and Isa. 1:3. 

The Mystery of Israel 283 

20. C. H. Dodd, The Bible Today (Macmillan: New York, 1947), p. 54. 
See also J. P. Hyatt, Prophetic Religion (Abingdon-Cokesbury: Nashville, 
Term., 1947), pp. 80-85. 

21. Jer. 16:14-15 (23:7-8). See also Isa. 43:2, 18-21; 51:10. 

22. Schechter, op. cit., p. 144. 

23. Schechter, op. cit., p. 64. 

24. Mayer, op. cit. t p. 321. 

25. See Hayim Greenberg, "The Universalism of the Chosen People," 
Jewish Frontier, Vol. XII (Oct., Nov., Dec., 1945), Nos. 10, 11, 12. 

26. Mayer, op. cit. f p. 312. 

27. Discussion in Stuttgart, January 14, 1933, reported in Theologische 
Blatter, September, 1933. 

28. Mayer, op. cit., p. 316. 

29. See Jean-Paul Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew; Arthur Koestler, Thieves 
in The Night and various magazine articles. 

30. Melville J. Herskovits, "Who Are the Jews?" The Jews, ed. Finkelstein 
(Jewish Publication Society: Philadelphia, 1949), p. 1168. 

31. Solomon Grayzel, "Christian-Jewish Relations in the First Millen- 
nium," Essays on Antisemitism, ed. by Pinson (Conference on Jewish Re- 
lations: New York, 1942), p. 27. 

The incorporation of the gentiles into Israel through Christianity is 
graphically expressed by H. Richard Niebuhr: "Through Jesus Christ, 
Christians of all races recognize the Hebrews as their fathers; they build 
into their lives as Englishmen or as Americans, as Italians or Germans, 
the memories of Abraham's loyalty, of Moses 1 heroic leadership, of 
prophetic denunciations and comfortmgs. All that has happened to the 
strange and wandering people of God becomes a part of their own past." 
Op. cit., pp. 115-16. 

32. A. A. Neuman, "Judaism," The Great Religions of the Modern World, 
ed. by Jurji (Princeton University: Princeton, N. J.), pp. 228-29. 

33. Jacob Agus, Modern Philosophies of Judaism (Behrmans: New York, 
1941), pp. 191-94. 

34. "Can the Christian Church supersede the synagogue in the struggle 
against paganism?" asks the Christian theologian, A. Roy Eckardt. "No, 
because the Church is itself subject to pagan distortions. . . .Against all 
idolatries, Judaism protests: 'Hear, O. Israel, the Lord our God is one 
Lord.' " Christianity and the Children of Israel (Columbia University: 
New York, 1948), pp. 146-47. 

"It is important that there always be Judaism. It is the corrective 
against the paganism that goes along with Christianity." Paul Tillich, 
quoted by Eckardt, op. cit., pp. 146-47. 

35. Franz Rosenzweig, Brief e (Schocken: Berlin, 1935), p. 100. 

36. "The Judeo-Christian tradition is one system, of which Judaism is 
the core and Christianity the periphery." Louis Finkelstein, Tradition in 

284 Judaism and Modern Man 

the Making (Jewish Theological Seminary: New York, 1937), p. 12. That 
is how the unity of Judaism and Christianity must appear to the Jew 
from his position, although the same relation will necessarily appear rather 
different to the Christian from where he stands. 

37. "Church and Synagogue, conscious of their election, know the dif- 
ference between their places in the world. . . .The mission of Judaism is 
to endure till the end of the world as the people of the King to whom 
one day all the nations will bow down. The mission of Christianity is 
to preach to the heathen, to Christianize the countries of the world and 
the souls of the people." Ignaz Maybaum, Synagogue and Society (James 
Clark: London, 1944), pp. 154-56. 

38. Finkelstein, The Beliefs and Practices of Judaism (Devin-Adair: New 
York, 1941), p. 25. 

39. Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism (Knopf: New York, 1939), 
p. 145. The context is worth quoting: "One might say they [the anti- 
Semitic peoples] are 'badly christened'; under the thin veneer of Christian- 
ity, they have remained what their ancestors were, barbarically polytheistic. 
They have not yet overcome their grudge against the new religion which 
was forced upon them and they have projected it on the source from 
which Christianity came to them. . . The hatred of Judaism is at bottom 
hatred for Christianity." 

40. Agus, op. cit., p. 193. See also Rosenzweig, op. cit., p. 100 

41. Maurice Samuel, The Great Hatred (Knopf: New York, 1940), pp. 

42. Eckardt, op. cit. f p. 55. 

43. Jacques Maritain, A Christian Looks at the Jewish Question (Long- 
mans Green: New York, 1939), pp. 29-30, 42. 

44. Fred Denbeaux, 'The Roots of Anti-Semitism," Christianity and So- 
ciety, Vol. X (Fall, 1945), No. 4. 

45. "Anti-Semitism is Europe's revenge on the Prophets. . . .It is be- 
cause the Jew brought ethics, the conception of sin into the western 
world. . . .The European Christian cannot forgive the Jew for giving 
him Christianity. . . .It is not because. . .they are 'good Christians' that 
the Europeans are instinctively antisemites. It is because they are bad 
Christians, in reality repressed. . .pagans." H. Sacher, "Revenge on the 
Prophets: A Psychoanalysis of Anti-Semitism," Menorah Journal, Vol. 
XXVIII (Fall, 1940) No. 3. Following Freud, a number of psycholo- 
gists and sociologists have approached anti-Semitism in a way that in 
part at least agrees with the findings of the theologians. See especially 
Anti-Semitism. A Social Disease, ed. Ernst Simmel (International Uni- 
versities Press: New York, 1946). Simmel himself writes: "The Jew must 
take over the role of innocent lamb, carrying the load of hate which up to 
now has not been absorbed in the process of Christian civilization. The 
anti-Semite who tortures and kills the Jew actually re-enacts the crucifixion 
of his Savior. . . . God. . . was transformed [by the Jews] into a spiritual 

The Mystery of Israel 285 

collective superego. ... In choosing the Jew as the object of his hatred [the 
anti-Semite's] ego takes upon itself the privilege of attacking this super- 
ego, to punish it, instead of being punished by it. It will therefore not 
evoke surprise if we assert that the Jew, as the object of anti-Semitism, 
represents the bad conscience of Christian civilization." Op. cit. t pp. 61, 
62, 65. 

46. I use the term "superhistorical" to suggest permanence underlying 
the changes of empirical history without any suggestion of timelessness 
in the larger scheme of redemptive history. Israel arises in history and 
will disappear with the "end" of history, but within empirical history its 
reality as covenant-folk remains unchanged. 

47. S. W. Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews (Columbia 
University: New York), I, 83-84. 

48. See Will Herberg, "Assimilation in Militant Dress: Should the Jews 
be 'Like Unto the Nations'?" Commentary, Vol. IV (July 1947), No. 1. 

49. See the very interesting article by Jacob Agus, "The Status of Ameri- 
can Israel," Conservative Judaism, Vol. II (February, 1946), No. 2. 

50. Maybaum, op. cit., pp. 159-60. 

51. G. F. Moore, Judaism (Harvard University: Cambridge, Mass., 
1927), 11, 156. 

52. Buber, "The Land and its Possessors," Israel and the World, p. 229. 

53. "The Holy One scattered Israel over the earth so that proselytes 
might be added to them." B. Pesahim 87b. 

54. Mayer, op. cit., p. 322. 

55. Sacher, op. cit., p. 248. 

56. "He becomes a disturber of the intellectual peace but only at the 
cost of becoming an intellectual wayfaring man, a wanderer in the intellec- 
tual No Man's Land, seeking another place to rest, further along the road, 
somewhere over the horizon. They are neither complaisant nor a con- 
tented lot, these aliens of uneasy feet. . . ." Thorstein Veblen, "The In- 
tellectual Preeminence of Jews in Modern Europe," Essays in Our Chang- 
ing Order, ed. by Ardzrooni (Viking: New York, 1934), p. 227. 

57. These phrases, used in somewhat different connection, are from A. 
J. Heschel, The Earth is the Lord's (Schuman: New York, 1950), p. 15. 

58. For the rabbinic teachings, see M. Higger, The Jewish Utopia (Lord 
Baltimore Press: Baltimore, 1932), chap vi, "The Holy Land," and chap, 
vii, 'The Holy City," 

59. Schechter, Some Aspects, p. 98. The liturgy fully bears out Schechter's 

60. See Schechter, op. cit., p. 131, and C. G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, 
A Rabbinic Anthology (Macmillan: London, 1938), p. 166. 

61. Tanh. Noah 19; Schechter, op. cit., p. 64. Another way of indicating 
the final unity and the completion of the vocation of Israel is found in 
Isaiah: "On that day, Israel will be a third with Egypt and Assyria as a 
blessing in the midst of the earth, which the Lord of Hosts has blessed 

286 Judaism and Modern Man 

in these terms: 'Blessed be Egypt my people and Assyria the work of my 
hands and Israel mine inheritance* " (19:24-25). 

62. Alan Richardson, "Instrument of God," Interpretation, Vol. Ill (July, 
1949), No. 3. 

63. Cf. also: "Our Father, our King, even though we are without right- 
eousness and good deeds, remember in our favor the covenant of our 
fathers and our daily testimony, The Lord is One. . ."; "Have mercy 
upon us for the sake of thy covenant. . ."; "O gracious and merciful 
King, remember thy covenant with Abraham; let the binding of his only 
son appear before thee for Israel's sake. . ." The familiar combination, 
"Our God and the God of our fathers," relates to the same conviction, 
for the "God of our fathers" is the God of the covenant who becomes 
"our" God by virtue of our relation to the "fathers" (Abraham, Isaac 
and Jacob) and to the covenant-people. 

64. For the rabbinic doctrine of the "remnant," see Schechter, op. cit. t 
pp. 88-89, and Montefiore and Loewe, op. cit. t pp. 231-32. 

65. From the Kaddish: "He who establishes peace in his heights above, 
may he establish peace for us and for all Israel." 


No word in Jewish religion is so indefinable and yet so indispensable 
as the word Torah. It is Law, yet more than Law, for it is also Teach- 
ing and Way. It is a book, an idea, a quality of life. It is the Penta- 
teuch; the Bible in all its parts; the Bible and the rabbinical writings; 
all writings dealing with revelation; all reflection and tradition dealing 
with God, man and the world. 1 It is represented as a bride, the 
daughter of God, as a crown, a jewel, a sword; as fire and water; as 
life, but to those who are unworthy, as poison and death. 2 It is the 
pre-existent Wisdom or Word of God, present at creation and acting 
as the "architect" of the creative work. It preserves the world from 
destruction; without it all creation would lapse into chaos: it is the 
harmony and law of the universe. It is all this and much more, for 
the exaltation of the Torah in Jewish tradition is a theme which no 
words can exhaust. But what, after all, is Torah, and what does it 
mean to the living Jew, here and now? 

The Mystery of Israel 287 

Perhaps it would be well to approach this problem from the point 
of view of Heilsgeschichte developed in the last chapter. What is 
the meaning of Torah in terms of the redemptive history which is 
Jewish religion? 

Redemptive history is not merely history of redemption; it is also 
redeeming history, history with the power to save. The Jew achieves 
salvation not through purely individual, mystical exercises which some- 
how bring him into union with God. The Jew becomes a "true 
Jew" and makes available to himself the resources of divine grace 
under the covenant by making Israel's past his own, its sacred history 
the "background" of his own life. 3 It is by this process of existential 
identification that the Jew becomes a Jew-in-faith, that his existence 
becomes authentically Jewish existence and he is enabled to encounter 
God as a Son of the Covenant, within the framework of the divine 
election. This existential self-integration into the sacred history of 
Israel gives the individual Jew a grounding in the past, a place of 
standing in the present, a hope for the future. It gives a context of 
ultimate significance to life, and that is itself redemption from the 
blank meaninglessness of self-contained existence. The authentic 
I-Thou relation between man and God, which we saw to be the ex- 
istential content of salvation, emerges for the Jew within the frame- 
work of his personally appropriated redemptive history. 

From this point of view, and this is the point of view most congenial 
to biblical thought, Jewish faith is the affirmation of the sacred history 
of Israel as one's own particular history, as one's own "true past." It 
is the way by which the power of redemptive history becomes effectual 
for us. Idolatry is false redemptive history and therefore false faith. 
It is easy to see this if we think of the demonic idolatries rampant 
in the modern world. Totalistic nationalism, communism, fascism, 
each" has its own special Heilsgeschichte, cutting across and challeng- 
ing those of Judaism and Christianity. Each has its own redemptive 
pattern of history, its own sacred calendar of holy days, in which this 
redemptive history is proclaimed and enacted; each has its own great 
redeeming event in the past which gives promise of still greater re- 
demption to come. Each offers the believer a significant context of 
life, a significant past, in terms of which his existence is given larger 

288 Judaism and Modern Man 

meaning and his future made to yield the promise of salvation. Each, 
in short, parodies the authentic redemptive history of mankind as ex- 
pressed in Hebraic religion. In this sense, our idolatries are spuri- 
ous, man-created redemptive histories, just as the gods of idolatry are 
spurious, man-created idols. Each of us has many contexts of life 
which strive to serve, partially at least, as redemptive histories the 
family, the nation, the labor movement, social and political causes, 
etc. These all tend to give some fragmentary meaning to certain 
aspects of life. They become idolatrous only when they claim to pro- 
vide the full and ultimate meaning of existence. It is then that they 
must be broken by repentance that is, by return to one's true Hells- 
geschichte in which is encountered the Living God in his "migjity 
deeds" of judgment and mercy. 

The true redemptive history for the Jew and in a rather different 
sense for the Christian as well is the sacred history of Israel. One 
becomes a Jew-in-faith by becoming an "Israelite," by re-enacting in 
his own life the redemptive career of Israel. Hebraic religion is his- 
torical religion, above all in the sense that the believer must himself 
appropriate it in his own life as his own history. Every believing Jew 
in his own life stands in the place of Abraham our father and in his 
own life re-enacts the historical encounter between Israel and God. 
The three great festivals of Judaism Pesah (Passover), Shabuot 
(Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles) whatever may be their 
original roots in "nature," gain their religious significance through the 
fact that they are history festivals. 4 They are the liturgical pattern in 
which the crucial event in the redemptive history of Israel Exodus- 
Sinai is re-enacted and through which the individual Jew integrates 
himself into that redemptive history. These festivals are not mere 
commemorations. They are decisive moments in which eternity en- 
ters time, in which the temporal takes on the dimensions of the eternal. 
They are moments when sacred history is repeated in our own lives. 
In the Passover ritual, every Jew, insofar as he participates in it ex- 
istentially, becomes an Israelite contemporary with Moses, whom 
God is drawing out of Egypt, the house of bondage, to bring to die 
foot of Sinai to receive the Torah. "All this I do," the Passover 
Haggadah represents the Jew as saying in explanation of the order 

The Mystery of Israel 289 

of service, "all this I do because of what God did for me in bringing 
me forth from Egypt." 5 For me, not for my ancestors or for someone 
else, but for me in exactly the same way as he did for Moses and the 
Israelite slaves of the time. Shabuot is the reception of the Torah at 
Sinai, and he for whom this festival has its authentic existential signifi- 
cance, himself goes to Sinai in fear and trembling to receive the Torah. 
He knows that what Moses told the Israelites "when they had come out 
of Egypt beyond the Jordan, in the valley opposite Beth-Peor" applies 
to him just as truly, for he, too, is one of the children of Israel whom 
God has delivered: "Hear, O Israel . . . the Lord our God made not 
his covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us 
here alive this day" (Deut. 5:5). And what is true of Pesah and 
Shabuot is also true of Sukkot, which relates to the wandering in the 
Wilderness. These three festivals are for us the living re-enactment 
of the formative events in the redemptive history of Israel. Just as 
Israel became Israel through the events to which they refer, so the 
individual Jew becomes a Jew-in-faith by "repeating" these events in 
his own life. It is neither past time nor timeless eternity in which we 
live in faith, but contemporaneity. 6 "He who does not himself re- 
member that God led him out of Egypt," says Martin Buber, "he who 
does not himself await the Messiah, is no longer a true Jew." 7 

To be a Jew means not only to stand in Abraham's place and an- 
swer "Here am I" to God's call when and where it comes; it means 
also to stand at the foot of Sinai and receive the Torah, not figuratively, 
but actually, through existential "repetition." "On this day, Israel came 
to Mount Sinai," we read in Scripture (Exod. 19:1). "Why on this 
day rather than on that day?" ask the rabbis. "So that you may regard 
it," they answer, "as though the Torah were given this day* ... as a 
new proclamation which all run to read." 9 Yet, although each of us 
stands at the foot of Sinai and receives the Torah as did the children 
of Israel in days of old, we stand now, not then. It is not so much that 
we stand at a different time; rather it is that we stand in a different 
context of life. It is the same Torah, yet different, because we who 
receive it are different and we hear it in a different way. 

What is this Torah which each of us receives at Sinai as God's truth 
and yet which each of us must "make true" for himself? 

290 Judaism and Modern Man 

Torah, in the first place, is Teaching, and its acquisition, in the fa- 
miliar term, is "learning." In this sense, we may take Torah to repre- 
sent the entire biblical-rabbinic tradition of "religious" wisdom, re- 
membering, however, that for the rabbis, "if religion is anything, it 
is everything." 10 Torah starts with the Bible. From the very begin- 
ning, however, it is not the Bible simply as written, but the Bible as 
read and understood. And yet what is thus "added" to the Bible is 
not really added, for can the Bible have any living significance except 
as read and understood and therefore as "added to"? This is the truth 
in the orthodox contention that the Oral Torah (tradition) was given 
to Moses along with the Written Torah (Bible) on Sinai and is there- 
fore just as truly revelation. Here, too, I think Franz Rosenzweig has 
put the matter in a more striking and existentially truer way than or- 
thodox fundamentalism is willing to do. "[To the orthodox]," he 
writes, "the Oral Torah is a stream parallel to the Written Torah and 
sprung from the same source. For us, it is the completion of the unity 
of the Book-as-written through the unity of the Book-as-read. Both 
unities are equally wonderful. The historical view discovers multipli- 
city in the Book-as-written as well as in the Book-as-read: multiplicity 
of centuries, multiplicity of writers and readers. The eye that sees 
the Book not from the outside but in its inner coherence sees it not 
merely as written but as read. In the former, it sees the unity of 
teaching; in the latter, it finds the unity of learning, one's own learn- 
ing together with the learning of centuries. Tradition, halakic and hag- 
gadic, itself becomes an element in [understanding and] translation. 11 
Thus, the Torah is "from Sinai," and yet the "Torah from Sinai" in- 
cludes, as the Talmud assures us, everything that the earnest and sin- 
cere spirit propounds in trying to understand it and make it vital for 
life. 12 All is Torah as Teaching. 

The Rosenzweigian distinction between the Book-as-written and 
the Book-as-read applies not only to the Bible but to all the "religious" 
literature of Israel as soon as that is given the permanence and authori- 
ty of writing. Once, the Mishnah and Talmud were Oral Torah, "com- 
pleting" the unity of the Bible as Written Torah. But soon the Mish- 
nah and Talmud themselves became Written Torah and were them- 
selves "completed" in a continuing tradition of Oral Torah. That is 
why he who wants to appropriate for himself the Torah in its fulness 

The Mystery of Israel 291 

must appropriate it as total living tradition. We cannot start with any 
external criterion of value, whether it be the distinction between the 
biblical and the extra-biblical, the "essential" and the "nonessential," 
the religiously "inspiring" and the religiously "uninspiring." What- 
ever distinctions and discriminations have to be made must come from 
within the total living tradition of Torah as distinctions and discrimi- 
nations of parts in terms of the whole; but it is the whole that is the 
Teaching and must be acquired as "learning." The continuity of 
Torah, as written and as read, was well understood by the rabbis, who 
affirmed, to use Schechter's words, that "prophecy [is] the 'word of 
God' and the continuation of his voice heard on Mount Sinai, a voice 
which will cease only with the Messianic times perhaps because the 
earth will be full of the knowledge of God and all the people of the 
Lord will be prophets." 13 Let us remember, however, that this "voice," 
like the word of God at Sinai, reaches us only as mediated through 
the minds and hearts of men and therefore in a relativized and fallible 
form. To discover the word of God in the words of the writings is 
the effort of all "learning," and is a task never done. 

Since Torah is Teaching and its acquisition "learning," the study 
of Torah has from early time been the great and absorbing concern 
of the believing Jew. It is equivalent to the Temple sacrifices, we are 
told; 14 indeed, it is that for which man is created. 15 It would be utterly 
wrong to conclude from this emphasis on studv that Jewish spirituality 
runs dry in the sands of intellectualism and scholasticism. Study of 
the Torah is something very different in Jewish reality: it is a genuine 
spiritual exercise, the characteristic and authentic Jewish equivalent 
of mystical communion with God. Indeed, it is rather more likely to 
run over into mysticism than into intellectualism, although neither 
excess is intrinsic to it. Certainly, the coachmen of Warsaw who 
as reported by the scholar mentioned by Dr. Heschel 16 were wont 
to seize a few moments from their work to gather in a group to con a 
page of the Talmud, were no intellectuals concerned only with the 
intricacies of scholastic dialectics. They were deeply earnest men 
thirsting for spiritual refreshment, for communion with the Living 
God, and they found it, as countless generations of Jews before them 
had found it, in the study of Torah. "Oh, how I love thy Torah; it 
is my meditation all day long" (Ps. 119:97) : with Torah understood 

292 Judaism and Modern Man 

in its fullest, this may be taken as the authentic attitude of the believing 
Jew to Torah as Teaching. 

Yet (he study of Torah is as nothing or worse than nothing if it is 
not associated with doing. Indeed, it is held to be of such transcendent 
value precisely because it is relevant to life and action. 17 This leads 
us to a consideration of Torah as Law. 

Torah is not in itself identical with law, as the usual translation 
would make it. 18 But it is Law, or halakah, in one of its aspects. Torah 
as Law reflects the fact that the Jew, in his covenant-existence, lives 
"under the Law," which is the constitution, so to speak, of the elect 
community, the "holiness-code" of the covenant-folk. That this con- 
viction of living "under the Law" need not entail a graceless legalism 
or the notion of self-salvation through good works the slightest ac- 
quaintance with genuine Jewish spirituality or the most cursory refer- 
ence to the Prayer Book which, as Schechter points out, 19 is the best 
witness to authentic Jewish belief is enough to prove. Certainly the 
countless generations of Jews who have prayed daily, "Our Father, 
our King, be gracious unto us, for we have no merits. . . . Our Father, 
our King, if thou shouldst take account of iniquities, who could stand? 
. . . We know we have no merits, so deal with us graciously for thy 
Name's sake. As a father has compassion on his children, so, O Lord, 
have compassion upon us. ... Righteousness is thine, O Lord, and 
confusion is ours. How can we complain? What can we say? How 
can we justify ourselves? . . . Save us because of thy grace, O Lord" 
the people who uttered these prayers were under no illusion that they 
could save themselves through the accumulation of merit. Nor can the 
rabbis who, for all their circumstantial enumeration of command- 
ments, taught that all were ultimately "compressed" or reduced to one, 
"The righteous shall live by his faith" 20 be charged with the fragmen- 
tation and trivialization of the divine imperative. Yet, though it does 
not succumb to legalism, normative Jewish faith is halakic through 
and through in the sense that it is oriented to the Torah as Law as 
well as to the Torah as Teaching. 

Torah as Law, like Torah as Teaching, is not merely the Pentateuch, 
not merely the Bible, not merely these plus the Talmud. It is the en- 

The Mystery of Israel 293 

tire living body of tradition that confronts us with its claim, and its 
claim is to the totality of life. 

Torah as Law is the divine imperative in all its unity and absolute 
demand. It "derives its authority from the Kingdom [of God]," as 
Schechter points out. 21 It is not merely an aggregation of particular 
commandments; it is in the first place, the affirmation of the total king- 
ship of God, and to this everything else is subordinated. "Why," asks 
R. Joshua b. Karha, "does the section [of the Shema] Hear, O Israel 
precede And it shall come to pass if ye shall hearken? So that a man 
may first take upon him the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven and after- 
ward take upon him the yoke of the commandments." 22 First, the yoke 
of the Kingdom; then, the yoke of the commandments. Just as sin, 
rebellion against God and his kingship, is the source and origin of par- 
ticular sins, so the acknowledgment of the divine kingship is the 
source, basis and sanction of the particular commandments. But just 
as, on the other hand, no man can be merely sinful in the abstract 
without engaging in particular sinful activities, so no man can truly 
acknowledge the kingship of God without subjecting himself to his 
Law in its particularity as commandments. 

The commandments (mitzvot) that follow upon the acknowledg- 
ment of the divine sovereignty are in themselves neither absolute nor 
unchangeable, however much they may appear to be so in the con- 
ventional formulation. They are, in fact, generally recognized, though 
not always explicitly, to be changing and relative to the human situa- 
tion. No commandment is conceived as absolute in the sense of being 
automatically applicable without regard to circumstances. Even the 
Sabbath, the rabbis teach, "is delivered into the hand of man (to break 
it when necessary), and not man into the power of the Sabbath." 23 
"Danger to life annuls the Sabbath . . ., 24 and one Sabbath may be vio- 
lated to save many. 25 And what is true of the Sabbath is, of course, 
equally or even more true of other commandments. The general prin- 
ciple is, "that a man shall live by them live, not die." 26 This principle 
provides not only a criterion for the application, suspension and, where 
necessary, the violation of particular commandments, but also a rule, 
though by no means the only one, by which orderly change and de- 
velopment are made possible. To take a famous example, biblical law 

294 Judaism and Modern Man 

requires the cancellation of all debts in the sabbatical year (Deut. 
15:1-3). However this law of shemittah may have worked in very 
ancient days, by the time of Hillel, circumstances had so changed as 
to make it a serious threat to economic and social life. In the Mishnah, 
we are told that when Hillel saw that people were refusing to make 
loans for fear that they would be canceled on the seventh year and 
were thus offending against a commandment (to help those in need), 
he devised a procedure (prosbul) by which the biblical requirement 
could be avoided and lenders could grant loans without fear of can- 
cellation. 27 Thus was a solemn Scriptural injunction annulled on the 
grounds of economic necessity (the need for an extensive credit sys- 
tem). The fact that the annulment was not explicitly recognized as 
such but was presented under cover of a legal fiction as an interpreta- 
tion of the Scriptural provision casts important light on the methods 
and devices by which change was effected; it does not alter the fact 
that change there was, and radical change at that. Interpretation, re- 
interpretation, enactments both positive and negative, emergence of 
the new and obsolescence of what has become meaningless: all of these 
processes find plentiful illustration in the development of the halakah 
through the centuries. 28 Torah as Law is very far indeed from being a 
fixed and rigid legalistic system without concern for human needs and 
changing requirements. It recognizes, by implication and act and 
sometimes even in so many words, the essential relativity of the com- 
mandments and their susceptibility to change in response to changing 
conditions. The lifeless rigidity that characterizes a certain type of 
contemporary orthodoxy is very far indeed from the classical con- 
ception and practice. 

Jewish thought has made a variety of distinctions among the mitzvot 
"heavy" and light," moral and ceremonial, rational and nonrational, 
those relating to God and those relating to one's neighbor. While under 
Torah as Law, all commandments are the same in nature and sanction, 
there are purposes for which such distinctions, properly qualified, can 
be of use. 

For most Jews today, the existential significance of the various 
kinds of commandments is by no means the same. A good many 
those dealing with political, criminal and civil law, for example have 

The Mystery of Israel 295 

lost all practical meaning since they have been superseded by the law 
of the state, and, according to the ancient rabbinical maxim, "The law 
of the state is the law." 29 Others, such as those relating to the Temple 
sacrifices, are obviously of no contemporary relevance. There are, in 
fact, left but two kinds of commandments that are of direct concern: 
the moral prescriptions, on the one side, and the "ritual" or "cere- 
monial" observances, on the other. 

Most people today, as did some of the rabbis of former times, con- 
sider the moral commandments to be essentially grounded in reason 
or natural law, so that "these things, if they had not been written [by 
God] would have had to be written [by man]." 30 We have seen that 
there is good reason to doubt this notion. But however that may be, 
it is obviously not the ethical laws included in halakah that perplex the 
modern Jew; it is the so-called "ritual observances" kashrut, Sab- 
bath, circumcision that perplex him. Not that he usually insists on 
being supplied with a "reason" for each particular observance. n 
What he is concerned with is something more serious and more basic. 
What are observances as such for? What is their religious meaning? 
What part do they play in religious life? 

These questions, in the acute practical form in which they are put, 
are essentially new, for rarely before modern times did such a problem 
arise for masses of Jews. The necessity and binding power of the 
mitzvot were always taken for granted, and while there were always 
plenty of "sinners in Israel," the principle itself was never seriously 
challenged. This, of course, is no longer the case today. The prin- 
ciple Is challenged, both in theory and in practice. And so the con- 
temporary Jew requires an answer in essentially new terms; the con- 
ventional formulas, however much truth they may contain, will no 
longer do. 

But conventional formulas are all that the spokesmen of orthodoxy, 
even, of its modem branches, seem able to supply. The ritual observ- 
ances are the direct command of God and therefore must be obeyed: 
that is virtually all they have to say. If it is pointed out that these 
ritual observances have changed in many important respects through 
the centuries, so that they cannot possibly be the eternal and unchang- 
ing word of God, we are assured that such change, emergence and ob- 
solescence are only apparent. All the mitzvot comprising the Oral 

296 Judaism and Modern Man 

Law were given to Moses on Sinai along with the written Torah; sub- 
sequent generations have simply "uncovered" the mitivot through the 
use of certain canonical rules of interpretation. This type of funda- 
mentalism runs counter to the plain evidence of the facts 82 and can 
obviously have but little appeal to the contemporary Jew who is ex- 
istentially concerned with making the special observances of his faith 
religiously available to himself. 

At the opposite pole is the position of "classical" or old-line Re- 
form Judaism. In this view, the traditional ritual observances are 
written off as largely obsolete, religiously peripheral and unnecessary 
to Judaism in its "pure" creedal form. Recently there has been some 
shift within American Reform toward a greater measure of observance, 
but this has been due, in part at least, to a growing cultural national- 
ism with only a remote religious reference. In any case, no new con- 
ception has been developed in Reform circles to replace the obviously 
untenable position of old-line Reform. 

Under the influence of secular Jewish nationalism, a new regard 
for certain traditional holidays and observances has emerged. These 
are approved because they seem to be the most significant and endur- 
ing aspect of "Jewish culture" and thus very useful to stimulate folk 
solidarity and promote folk survival. Often these secular survivalist 
arguments are presented under religious guise, but sometimes their 
nonreligious character is frankly avowed. In any case, this approach 
is not one that is likely to appeal to those who take Jewish faith seri- 
ously. It involves not only the idolatrous exaltation of folk or national 
values, but also a deliberate exploitation of sacred things that must 
appear very close to sacrilege to the religious mind. It bears an un- 
comfortable resemblance to the postion once adopted by Charles 
Maurras, leader of the ultranationalist V Action Frangaise, in relation 
to the Catholic Church. Himself an unbelieving positivist of the Com- 
tean school, Maurras strongly urged support of the Church and its 
ceremonies. "Differing on the truth," he explained, "we have come 
to agree on the useful. Divergencies of speculation persist but we 
have reached a practical accord on the value of Catholicism to 
the nation." 38 Sincere Catholics were outraged at this overture, and 
I do not think its Jewish counterpart is likely to commend itself any 
more favorably to the believing Jew. 

The Mystery of Israel 297 

Reconstructionism has attempted to develop a philosophy of ritual 
observance which would avoid the pitfalls of all of these positions. It 
regards observances not as halakah (binding law) but simply as tra- 
ditional Jewish folkways which should be pruned, modified, but on 
the whole preserved for their functional utility. This is defined as the 
twofold purpose of contributing simultaneously to "Jewish survival" 
and the "enrichment of Jewish spiritual life." But "Jewish survival," 
without the conviction of Israel's election and vocation and this 
teaching Reconstructionism rejects is simply a narrow ethnocentrism 
indistinguishable from secular "folkism," while "enrichment of spirit- 
ual life," in the context of Reconstructionist thinking, easily falls into 
subjectivism and a kind of religio-aesthetic sentimentality which 
searches for psychological devices to make one "feel spiritual." In the 
end, the observances lose all compelling religious power and become 
mere "folkish" trimmings of a subjective "religious experience." 34 

Yet although fundamentalism, modernism, secularism and Re- 
constructionism must all be rejected insofar as they attempt to pro- 
vide an adequate answer to the problem of religious observance, they 
all have something significant to say. Orthodoxy contains the crucial 
emphasis on the centrality and unique importance to Jewish faith of 
ritual observance as halakah, while modernism places a valid stress on 
free inquiry and historical criticism. Reconstructionism deserves 
recognition for its insistence on the interplay of historical continuity 
and change in the tradition. Even secular "folkism" is in order when 
it points to the undeniable socio-cultural role of religious observances. 
There is some degree of partial truth, greater or less, in each of these 
positions but none of them is adequate. It is necessary to find a new 
approach that will preserve the valid emphasis of tradition and yet 
make that emphasis intelligible to the contemporary believing Jew. 

Let us note, in the first place, that all religious observance, exist- 
entially considered, is the acting-out of one's religious convictions. 
Our convictions if they are truly existential and involve the entire be- 
ing, operate along all three dimensions of the personality: thinking, 
feeling and doing. Of these, the aspect of doing is perhaps as important 
in religion as either of the others. Not only early religion, but religion 
in general, seems to be in a basic sense a dromenon, a pattern of 
doing, 35 at least as much as a way of thinking and feeling. We need 

298 Judaism and Modern Man 

not agree entirely with Rosenzweig, who commends "the Pharisees 
and the saints of the Church" for knowing that "man's understanding 
extends only as far as his doing" 86 this probably goes too far to ap- 
preciate the fact that a man's understanding involves his doing. Man 
being the unitary creature he is, no one can be said really to hold any 
conviction if it does not somehow find expression in a pattern of doing. 
Jewish religious thought is particularly sensitive to this truth, for, as 
Dr. Finkelstein points out, "the ultimate expression of Jewish doctrine 
remains to this day that of 'propositions in action.' " 3T 

Religious observance is, then, in effect the doing of one's religious 
convictions. Now, among Jewish observances, there are two kinds: 
those that are of a general-religious type, more or less common to all 
religions (prayer, communal worship, consecration of birth, marriage 
and death) , and those of the special- Jewish type, that are held to apply 
to Jews and to Jews only (circumcision, kashiut, Sabbath, etc.). A 
believing Jew will feel that his Christian neighbor ought to pray, at- 
tend church and give his children a religious training, but no Jew, 
not even the most orthodox, will feel that a Christian ought to observe 
kashrut or light the Sabbath candles. These things are somehow meant 
for Jews alone. It is with observances of this latter kind that we are 
here primarily concerned. 

What is the religious significance of these observances? Is it not 
obvious that they are, in effect, the acting-out of the Jew's affirmation 
of the election of Israel and its "separation" as "priest-people?" "You 
shall be holy unto me, for I have separated you from among the na- 
tions that you should be mine" (Lev. 20:26): in this proclamation 
lies the meaning of Israel's existence and the ultimate grounding of the 
halakic code of ritual observance. The Jew, who, in existential "repe- 
tition," stands at the foot of Sinai and receives the Torah, receives it 
not only as a teaching about the election of Israel but also as a code, 
a "holiness-code," in terms of which he is to enact that teaching into 
the pattern of his life. 38 "Law, lived and experienced, is expression 
and justification of the divine election of Israel. Both belong to- 
gether." 89 

In this view, Jewish ritual observance is halakah, for the Jew lives 
"under the Law," and the special discipline to which the halakah sub- 
jects him is the commandment of God involved in the election of 

The Mystery of Israel 299 

Israel. But this is a far cry from asserting, as do the fundamentalists, 
that the particular, detailed observances confronting the Jew at any 
time are the eternal prescriptions of God, communicated to Moses on 
Mount Sinai. Nor, on the other hand, are they "mere" human inven- 
tions. As with Scripture, so with halakah, it is fruitless, even mean- 
ingless, to attempt a simple and definitive differentiation between the 
"human" and the "divine." One cannot accept the "general principle" 
of election as divine but relegate the particular commandments to the 
rank of the peripheral and "merely human." The "general principle" 
cannot be really understood unless particular commandments are ob- 
served. "The truth of the theological connection between Chosenness 
and Law becomes evident when we actually fulfill the command. Only 
the 'living reality,' the unmediated experience of the single law, leads 
to a conception of the objective theological fact." 40 Observances have 
their history; they have arisen, changed and many of them lost their 
effectiveness with the passage of time. The commandments, like the 
Bible, are immediately the products of human life, as the modernists 
claim. But they are not therefore any the less the commandments of 
God. God operates in and through history, and the history of Israel 
certainly cannot be dissociated from the divine intent for Israel. It is 
the historical belief and practice of the community of Israel kelal 
Y Israel 41 that provides us with the contents of halakah. In the tra- 
dition of Israel, we find the unique and inseparable combination of the 
divine and the human that constitutes the Torah as Teaching and Law. 
Buber has objected to the "ritualistic" emphasis of the halakic 
tradition on the ground that it "hampers the striving for realization." 
"The will to the covenant with God through the perfected reality of 
life in true community," he explains, "can only emerge in power where 
one does not believe that the covenant with Gcd is already fulfilled in 
essence through the observance of prescribed forms." 42 This is a basic 
argument against the halakic concept, and it cannot be denied that it 
has its force. Were the "observance of prescribed forms" held to be in 
itself sufficient for the fulfilment of the covenant, then it would deserve 
all the denunciation that the prophets heaped upon "burnt-offerings" 
and "sacrifices," and insofar as halakic observance is sometimes so 
conceived, it deserves such condemnation. But the halakic concept 
is in itself very far from legalistic ritualism. The election and vocation 

300 Judaism and Modern Man 

of Israel mean more, much more, than fixed ritual observance; they 
include the entire moral law, and no area of life is unaffected by their 
transforming power. Buber, moreover, himself speaks of the "mys- 
teries whose meaning no one learns who does not himself join in the 
dance." 48 The halakic pattern is the "dance" in which the Jew learns 
the "mystery" of the election of Israel. 

But in order to have this significance, the ritual observances per- 
formed must be not just halakah, but halakah-/0r-mi. Rosenzweig 
deals with this problem which is a problem particularly, though not 
exclusively, for those Jews of our time who "return" to Judaism and 
have to begin "acquiring" the halakah in a profound essay, "Die 
Bauleute." 4 * He stresses the necessity of an existential appropriation 
of the Torah as Law by each individual Jew standing face to face with 
God. Unless a mitzvah is really made one's own, unless it can be 
and is performed with true inwardness, it has no effective power. 
The entire body of halakic tradition, ever changing in its historical 
conditionedness, yet ever the same, confronts the individual Jew as 
Gesetz ("law" in the external sense, mere "substance"). To become 
operative, it must be turned into Gebot ("commandment" in the inner 
sense, an inward compulsion to deed). "In the realm of Law, as in 
the realm of Teaching, contents and material must cease to be mere 
substance and must be transformed into inner power. Gesetz [must] 
. . . become Gebot, which, in the very moment it is heard, turns into 
deed. The living reality (Heutigkeit) is the purpose of the law. This 
aim, however, is not to be achieved by obedience to the paragraphs of 
a code. Only personal ability to fulfill the precept can decide. We 
choose; but it is a choice based on high responsibility." 45 Thus, 
through responsible personal appropriation, halakah-as-such is trans- 
formed into halakah-for-me and becomes operative as the way in 
which I as a Jew live out in ritual pattern my existential affirmation of 
faith. No man can decide for another what he can or cannot make his 
own; each must decide for himself, in responsible recognition of the 
claim that the tradition of the Law has upon him, but for himself 
nevertheless. In the end, the appropriation of Torah as Law is an 
existential decision made in divine-human encounter as at Sinai. In 
the end, too, everyone who has taken upon himself the yoke of the 
Kingdom and the commandments is vindicated before God for what 

The Mystery of Israel 301 

he does in the full consciousness of responsibility, according to the 
saying of R. Zedekiah b. Abraham: "Every man receives reward from 
God for what he is convinced is rigjht, if this conviction has no other 
motive but the love of God."* 6 

Torah as Law is the active side of Torah as Teaching. It embraces 
not merely ritual observance, but in a sense everything the Jew does, 
for it recognizes no ultimate distinctions in the totality of life, which 
is all subject to God and his Law. Law and 1 eaching constitute two 
aspects of the same reality, and that reality, in unity and synthesis, is 
Torah as Way. 

The conception of Torah as Way has exercised the imagination of 
Jewish mystics through the ages. In their visions, it has become virtu- 
ally the Way, or Tao, of the universe the premundane Word and 
Wisdom of God operative as the Logos in the creation and mainten- 
ance of the cosmos. But if we desire to avoid such theosophical specu- 
lation, so alien to the "reverential agnosticism" 47 that characterizes 
the prophetic faith, we will think of Torah as the Way for the Jew 
in his life under the covenant. 

Here, too, everything depends on decision. Every Jew is under the 
covenant, whether by birth or adoption; and once under the covenant, 
his covenant-existence is an objective fact independent of his will. He 
can no more help it than he can help being a man of the twentieth 
century or the son of his father. The son is indeed confronted with 
a crucial decision: to be a good son or a bad son, to live up to or to 
repudiate the responsibilities of sonship, but no matter what he does 
or desires to do, he cannot make himself not the son of his father. So 
too the Jew. He is confronted with a crucial, life-determining choice: 
to acknowledge and try to live up to or to repudiate the responsibilities 
of his Jewish covenant-existence, but no matter what he does, he can- 
not remove himself from under the covenant and its obligations. 48 The 
fateful decision confronting every Jew is therefore not: Shall I or shall 
I not come under the covenant? but: Shall I affirm my covenant-exist- 
ence and live an authentic life or shall I deny it and as a consequence 
live an inauthentic one? Judaism is the living out of the affirmative 
decision. It is the decision to take the Way of the Torah. 

The consequences of this decision, both in its individual and col- 

302 Judaism and Modern Man 

lective aspects, are vast and far-reaching. Covenant-existence for the 
Jew is not a mere figure of speech; it is an objective though super- 
natural fact. It enters into the Jew's very being, and the attempt to 
deny it or to repudiate its responsibilities must lead to deep inner 
division which may manifest itself disastrously in various psychologi- 
cal, social and cultural forms. Ezekiel's thunderous words against the 
faithless community of his time apply with equal force to the Jewish 
individual and Jewish community of all times: "And that which 
comes into your minds shall not be at all, in that you say, We will 
be as the nations, the races of the lands, to serve wood and stone. 
As I live, says the Lord God, with a mighty hand, with an outstretched 
arm and an outpoured fury, will I be king over you" (Ezek. 20:32- 
33). This is the same "mighty hand and outstretched arm" that de- 
livered Israel from Egypt; 49 but now it no longer delivers, it destroys. 
Against those who repudiate it in word or deed, the divine election 
under the covenant turns into the wrath of God. For what they are do- 
ing is to deny their true redemptive history and seek salvation else- 
where, by worshiping other gods, which are mere "wood and stone" 
even though they be compounded of the best that science and philo- 
sophy can provide. 

But if the repudiation of his true redemptive history is so destructive 
to the Jew, his wholehearted affirmation of the covenant brings with 
it the divine blessing of authenticity. Authentic Jewish covenant- 
existence made operative in life: that is the Torah in its totality as Way. 

Because of this ambivalence, the Torah is decision and judgment. 
It is decision, for it confronts every Jew with the demand for recogni- 
tion and appropriation, not only once for all but at every moment of 
existence: "Choose you this day whom you will serve" (Jos. 24:15). 
It is judgment because, upon this decision, depends the Jew's existence 
as Jew: "It is not a trifling thing for you; it is your life" (Deut. 32:47) . 
Or, as the rabbis put it, Torah may be either balm or poison. "For 
him who deals rightly with it, it is a drug for life; but for him who 
deals wrongly with it, it is a drug for death." 50 Torah is for the Jew 
the permanent crisis of his life, for it is demand, decision and judg- 
ment. But it is also joy, for it is the testimony of the election, the abid- 
ing expression of God's mighty act of redemption in the past and the 

The Mystery of Israel 303 

promise of the greater and final redemption to come. It is at once the 
symbol and the embodiment of Israel's redemptive history. 

Torah as Way is the totality of everything that has meaning for the 
Jew in his religious existence. To live a Torah-true life is, for him, 
to live a life that is true to his inmost being because it is true to the 
God who is the source and law of that being. 


1. "The comprehensive name for the divine revelation, written and oral, 
in which the Jews possessed the sole standard and norm of their religion, 
is Torah. It is a source of manifold misconception that the word is cus- 
tomarily translated 'Law/ though it is not easy to suggest any one English 
word by which it would be rendered. 'Law' must, however, not be under- 
stood in the restricted sense of legislation, but it must be taken to include 
the whole of revelation all that God has made known of his nature, 
character and purpose, of what he would have man be and do. ... In a 
word, Torah in one aspect is the vehicle; in another and deeper view, it 
is the whole content of revelation." G. F. Moore, Judaism (Harvard Uni- 
versity: Cambridge, Mass., 1927), I, 263. 

2. See C. G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology (Mac- 
millan: London, 1938), chap, v, "The Law"; also Solomon Schechter, 
Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (Macmillan: New York, 1909), 
chaps, viii, "The 'Law,' " and ix, "The Law as Personified in the Litera- 

3. "[In the history of Israeli we see the prehistory of our own life, each of 
us the prehistory of his own life." Martin Buber, Drei Reden iiber das 
Judentum (Literarische Anstalt Rutten & Loening: Frankfort, 1920), 

p. 28. 

4. The transformation in rabbinic tradition of these "nature" festivals 
into history festivals expresses better than anything else the true genius of 
the Jewish religion. Those who today are trying to convert them back 
into "nature" festivals are, wittingly or unwittingly, trying to undo the 
work of the rabbis and to paganize Jewish observance. "It is well 
known that the ancient Israelitic festivals were taken over from the pre- 
vious oriental cultures of Canaan and Babylonia. But in each case, an- 
cient Judaism changed the fundamental meaning of the festival first by 
adding to it, then by substituting for its natural a historical interpretation. 

304 Judaism and Modern Man 

Thus, the shalosh regalim, the three great holidays of the year, originally 
natural holidays of agricultural production, became, for the Jews, holi- 
days commemorating great historical events. Passover, the ancient spring 
festival, became and remained the festival of the Exodus from Egypt, or 
of the origin of the Jewish nation. Pentecost, still 'the day of the first 
fruits' in the Old Testament, was transformed by the early Pharisees into 
a memorial chiefly of the giving of the Torah, i.e., of the foundation of 
the Jewish religion. The Feast of Tabernacles celebrates chiefly the mi- 
gration through the desert. . . ." S. W. Baron, A Social and Religious 
History of the Jews (Columbia University: New York), I, 5. 

5. "In every generation, one should regard himself as personally having 
come out of Egypt." M. Pesahim 10.5. 

6. Cf. Will Herberg, "Beyond Time and Eternity: Reflections on Passover 
and Easter," Christianity and Crisis, Vol. IX (April 18, 1949), No. 6. 

7. Buber, "Der Preis," Der Jude, Vol. II (October, 1917), No. 8; Die 
judische Bewegung, (Judischer Verlog: Berlin, 1916), II, 123-24. 

8. Tanh. B. Yitro, 38b. 

9. Pesik. K. 102a. "To the Rabbis and their followers, the Revelation at 
Sinai and all that it implies was not a mere reminiscence or tradition. . . . 
Through their intense faith, they rewitnessed it in their own souls, so that 
it became to them a personal experience." Schechter, Some Aspects of 
Rabbinic Theology, p. 24. 

10. Schechter, op. cit., p. 142. 

11. Franz Rosenzweig, Brief e (Schocken: Berlin, 1935), pp. 582-83. 

12. "Whatever a discerning disciple will one day proclaim before his 
teacher was already said by Moses on Sinai." /. Peah 9b. 

"Rabbi Isaac said: The Prophets drew from Sinai all their future ut- 
terances. . . . Not only to the Prophets alone does this apply but to all 
the sages that are destined to arise in after days." Tanh. Yitro, 11, 124. 
Note, however, that Sinai is taken as the criterion of all that is valid as 
future Torah. 

13. Schechter, op. cit. t p. 123. 

14. Tanh. B., Ahare Mot, 35a. 

15. M. Abot 2.9. 

16. A. J. Heschel, The Earth is the Lord's (Schuman: New York, 1950), 
p. 46. 

17. The question was discussed: Is study the greater thing or doing? R. 
Tarfon said doing, but Rabbi Akiba insisted on study on the ground that 
"study leads to doing." B. Kidd. 40b. To this ail agreed. See also Sifre, 
Deut. 48:84b. "One who studies with an intent other than to act, it were 
better for him had he never been created." J. Shabbat 3b. 

18. "It must be stated that the term Law or Nomos is not a correct ren- 
dering of the Hebrew word Torah. The legalist element, which might 
rightly be called the Law, represents only one side of the Torah. To the 

The Mystery of Israel 305 

Jew, the word Torah means a teaching or instruction of any kind. It may 
be either a general principle or a specific injunction, whether it be found 
in the Pentateuch or in other parts of Scripture, or even outside the canon. 
The juxtaposition in which Torah and Mitzvot, Teaching and Command- 
ments, are to be found in the Rabbinic literature, implies already that the 
former means something more than merely the Law." Schechter, op. cit., 
p. 117. 

19. Schechter, op. cit., pp. 9-11. 

20. B. Makk. 23b-24a. The biblical quotation is from Hab. 2:4. 

21. Schechter, op. cit., p. 116. 

The total claim of God upon Israel is, as we have seen, related to the 
divine act of deliverance from Egypt: "We were Pharaoh's slaves in 
Egypt, and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. . . . 
And the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes and fear the 
Lord our God, for our good always. . . ." Deut. 6:20-24. 

22. M. Ber. 2.2. 

23. Schechter, op. cit., p. 152. See Mekilta on Exod. 31:13. 

24. Tanh. B., Massee, 8 la. 

25. Mekilta, Shabb. 1 . 

26. Sifra 86b. Three commandments, however the prohibition of idola- 
try, murder and sexual "impurity" are to be observed even at the risk 
of death. B. Sanh. 74a. 

27. M. Shebiit 10.3-7. 

28. See the extremely informative and illuminating article by Robert 
Gordis. "The Nature of Jewish Tradition," Jewish Frontier, Vol. XIV 
(November, 1947), No. 11. 

29. B. Gittm lOb and parallels. 

30. B. Yoma 67b. 

31. Maimomdes has some interesting remarks, cast in a rather modern 
anthropological vein, on the origins of some of the biblical prohibitions. 
See Leon Roth, The Guide for the Perplexed: Moses Maimonides (Hutch- 
inson's University Library: London, 1948), pp. 75-76. In general, how- 
ever, the rabbis discourage speculation on these matters as vain and 

32. See the study by Robert Gordis referred to above. 

33. Quoted by Carl ton J. H. Hayes, The Historical Evolution of Modern 
Nationalism (Smith- New York, 1931), p. 209. 

34. "Toward a Guide for Jewish Ritual Usage,"' Reconstructionist Pam- 
phlet No. 4, pp. 7 and 8. Particularly revealing is this passage: "A satis- 
factory rationale for Jewish [ritual] usage is one that would recognize 
in it both a method of group survival and a means to the personal self- 
fulfilment or salvation of the individual Jew. Through it, the individual 
Jew will know the exhilaration of fully identifying himself with his people 
and thereby saving his own life from dullness, drabness, and triviality." 

306 Judaism and Modern Man 

Thus, even the "personal** aspect is reduced to the "folkish." 

35. Jane Harrison, Ancient Art and Ritual (Oxford: New York, 1948), 
pp. 35-38. 

"The ritual is a symbolic expression of thoughts and feelings by action." 
Erich Fromm, Psychoanalysis and Religion (Yale University: New Haven, 
Conn., 1950), p. 109. 

36. Rosenzweig, "Das neue Denken, "Kleinere Schriften (Schocken: 
Gerlin, 1937), p. 374. 

37. Louis Finkelsteia, "The Role of Dogma in Judaism," The Thomist: 
Maritain Volume (Sheed & Ward: New York, 1943), Vol. V, January, 

38. It is not without significance that, according to some scholars, most 
of the biblical "purity" regulations were originally binding upon the priest- 
ly group alone. As all Israel became a "kingdom of priests," these ob- 
servances were extended to the entire people. 

39. So N. N. Glatzer ("Franz Rosenzweig," Yivo Annual of Jewish So- 
cial Science: I, p. 125) summarizes the position taken by Franz Rosenz- 
weig in his essay "Gottlich und Menschlich" (Brief e, pp. 518-21). 

40. Glatzer, op. cit., p. 124: Rosenzweig, op. cit. t p. 519. 

41. Schechter uses the term, "Catholic Israel.*' Studies in Judaism (Jew- 
ish Publication Society: Philadelphia, 1945), First Series, pp. xviii-xix. 

42. Buber, Der heilige Weg (Literarische Anstalt Rutten & Loening: 
Frankfort, 1920), p. 53. A somewhat more heilsgeschichthche formula- 
tion of the same argument is to be found in Buber's "The Two Foci of 
the Jewish Soul,*' Israel and the World (Schocken: New York, 1948), 
pp. 28-29: "My point of view with regard to this subject [Law] diverges 
from the traditional. It is not a-nomistic, but neither is it entirely nomistic. 
. . . The teaching of Judaism comes from Sinai; it is Moses* teaching. 
But the soul of Judaism is pre-Sinaitic; it is the soul which approached 
Sinai and there received what it did receive; it is older than Moses; it is 
patriarchal, Abraham's soul, or more truly, since it concerns the product 
of a primordial age, it is Jacob's soul. The Law put on the soul, and the 
soul can never again be understood outside of the Law; yet the soul itself 
is not of the Law." This is to be associated with Buber's denial that 
Exodus-Sinai constitutes the "center" of Israel's redemptive history: "The 
Bible does not set a past event as midpoint between origin and goal. It 
interposes a movable, circling midpoint which cannot be pinned to any 
set time, for it is the moment when I ... catch through the words of the 
Bible the voice which from the earliest beginnings has been speaking in 
the direction of the goal. . . . The revelation at Sinai is not this midpoint 
itself, but the perceiving of it, and such perception is possible at any 
time." "The Man of Today and the Jewish Bible," Israel and the World, 
p. 94. 

43. Buber, "What is Man,*' Between Man and Man (Kegan Paul: Lon- 
don, 1947), p. 192. Cf. Finkelstein: "Vivid enough for those who are sen- 

The Mystery of Israel 307 

sitive to them, such propositions expressed in action or commandments 
have little or no meaning for anyone outside the group which practices 
them." "The Role of Dogma in Judaism," op. cit., p. 106. Also Rosenz- 
weig: "No single commandment can be made intelligible as a 'religious' 
demand to anyone who stands outside." Brief e, p. 519. 

44. Rosenzweig, Kleinere Schriften, pp. 106-21. 

45. Glatzer, op. cit., p. 124; Rosenzweig, op. cit., pp. 116, 120. 

46. Schechter, Studies, First Series, p. 325. 

47. See above, chap. 17, note 7. 

48. "The Israelites have been chosen by God to be his sons and servants. 
There is no escape. God will use them for his purpose, whether they will 
or no." Thus do Montefiore and Loewe formulate the normative rab- 
binical view. A Rabbinic Anthology, p. 123. 

49. "And brought forth Israel from the midst of them [the Egyptians] 
. . . with a mighty hand and outstretched arm." Ps. 136:11-12. 

50. J?. Shab. 88b; B. Yoma 72b. 


The problem of religion is the problem of existence, for "religion 
is man's life insofar as it is defined by his supreme loyalty or de- 
votion." 1 The problem of religion is precisely the problem of one's 
"supreme loyalty or devotion." 

It is a problem at once theological and anthropological in character, 
for it is a problem both of man and of God. Man, as we have seen, 
stands at the juncture of finitude and infinity. He is a creature, but 
he knows himself to be such and is therefore anxious and uneasy 
in his creatureliness. The very dynamic of his existence drives him 
beyond himself. His existence, in other words, is self-transcending; 
it points beyond to something "other," something larger, in which the 
self attempts to ground itself and establish its security. Man, we may 
say, is always searching for a "god." 

But and this is the testimony of all Hebraic religion the "god" 
that man finds as long as he relies simply on himself is never the true 
God; it is always some idol constructed after his own heart. It may 
be a crude fetish (a "golden calf"), a natural power, an ethical sys- 

308 Judaism and Modern Man 

tern, a cosmic principle or a social Utopia, but no matter how refined 
or elevated, it remains an idol something devised or possessed by 
man, the product if not of his hands than of his mind or spirit. And 
because it is an idol, it cannot save; the attempt to establish one's life 
upon what is after all the self projected, objectified and worshiped 
only deepens and extends the chaos, the confusion and fragmentari- 
ness of existence. 

The tragedy of human life would thus seem to be utterly without 
hope, for apparently man's every effort to save himself from the misery 
of existence only tends to increase his perplexities and multiply the 
possibilities of chaos. And indeed there is no hope so long as man 
continues to believe that he can save himself. But it is the glad word 
of Hebraic religion that what man cannot do, God will do if only we 
turn to him. For as the misery of existence is, at bottom, due to our 
alienation from God, so our "return" to him opens the way for the 
validation of life, individual and collective. The "return" to God is 
faith; it is faith that restores the wholeness of life and reorients our 
total existence in a new direction, toward the Living God who is the 
source and end of our being. 

Faith overcomes despair by bringing us through and beyond it. In 
faith, we see that the tragedy of life is neither the first not the last word 
about it. It is not the first word because we know that evil is not in- 
herent in existence but is the consequence of its spoiling through sin. 
It is not the last because in faith we know that the God who is the 
Lord of history has his purpose with the world and that purpose shall 
prevail. The evil in existence,- from which no human enterprise, no 
matter how exalted, is ever free, is thus finally brought under the 
dominion of God, the true and universal good. To the degree that we 
make this perspective and this conviction operative in our existence, 
to that degree is life lifted beyond the plane of fear and tragedy. A 
living faith banishes fear. 

This faith is an active faith because it is a faith of personal com- 
mitment and decision. It takes a firm stand against the flight from 
freedom and responsibility that is so characteristic of our time. To 
renounce freedom or to try to escape responsibility is, indeed, to re- 
pudiate our allegiance to God, for the very first thing God requires 

The Mystery of Israel 309 

of us in Hebraic religion is that we confront reality, decide and act. 
"Choose you this day" is the demand that comes to us at every moment 
and in every situation of life. We serve a Master who calls upon us 
to be free and who assures us that if we act like free men, in truth 
and responsibility, we will be acting in obedience to his law and in 
accordance with his will. We may not evade responsibility, but we need 
not fear it either. For if God be with us, and God is with us to the 
degree that we put ourselves in his service, who can be against us? 

For the Jew, the faith that saves is the faith that becomes concrete 
in the redemptive history of Israel. The God of Jewish faith is no ab- 
stract principle but is the Lord who "led us out of Egypt," the God of 
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God at Sinai, the God who in the 
"end" will send his Messiah to redeem Israel and the world. For the 
Jew to "believe in" this God means to affirm with his whole being, in 
thought, feeling and action, that this entire story is quite literally the 
substance of his personal biography. Thus is established the Heils- 
geschichtliche context of faith that gives ultimate meaning to our exist- 
ence, that defines our signficant past, illumines our present, and pro- 
claims the hope that creates our future. For the Jew, the redemption 
of life comes in and through his self-integration into the redemptive 
history of Israel. 

On this level, too, faith is won through a never-ending struggle 
against idolatry. For every loyalty and concern of life family, pro- 
fession, social interest or nation has, so to speak, its own Heilsge- 
schichte which makes its total claim upon the individual as the con- 
text of ultimate meaning. And each Heilsgeschichte has its own "god," 
its own absolute. Idolatry, as we have emphasized, is false Heilsge- 
schichte. Amidst the competing claims of "redemptive histories," He- 
braic Heilsgeschichte stands alone in affirming a God who is not to be 
identified with anything of this world, who transcends the world and 
all its power and vitalities as Creator, Judge and Redeemer. Utter 
loyalty to this God, in which alone lies salvation, means the uncom- 
promising affirmation of the redemptive history of Israel as the ulti- 
mate context of existence. Each of us stands in Abraham's place, each 
of us confronts God and receives the Torah at Sinai, each of us looks 

310 Judaism and Modern Man 

forward in the tension of expectation to the coming of the Messiah: 
that is the meaning of Jewish faith. 

Hebraic religion is thus, on every level, a declaration of permanent 
resistance to idolatry. It is a declaration of total and unreserved al- 
legiance to the Living God who alone is absolute and to whom all 
other powers, concerns and allegiances are subject. It answers the 
ultimate question of existence, "Whom shall I serve?" with an unquali- 
fied "Fear the Lord your God, walk in all his ways, love him and serve 
him with all your heart and all your soul" (Deut. 10:12). 

Everywhere today we hear that what mankind needs is a "philoso- 
phy" capable of coping with the perils and compulsions of modern 
social existence. We possess such a "philosophy," if philosophy it 
can be called: it is the biblical faith to which Judaism stands witness. 
It is for us today, in this crisis of mankind, to lay hold of this faith 
and make it a vital power in our lives and the life of society. 


1. Robert S. Calhoun, What is Man (Association Press: New York, 1929), 
p. 76. 


Abrahams, Israel, 123, 129 
Abrahamsen, David, 85 
Acton, Lord, 175, 184, 186, 190, 192 
Agus, Jacob, 42, 86, 283, 284. 285 
Aquinas, Thomas, 196, 209 
Aristotle, 196 
Arnold, Matthew, 58 
Augustine, 104, 128 

Baab, Otto J., 83, 189, 247, 260 

Baeck, Leo, 185, 192 

Baer, George F., 156, 167 

Bailhe, John, 238 

Baron, Salo W. f 196, 209, 266, 274, 
282, 285, 304 

Becker, Carl, 22, 24, 41 

Benda, Julien, 99, 105 

Bentwich, Norman, 114 

Berdyaev, Nicolas, 193, 208 

Bergler, Edmund, 103, 128 

Bergson, Henri, 200 

Boas, George, 89, 103 

Boulter, H. W., 57 

Brandeis, Louis D., 202 

Brunner, Emil, 32, 61, 67, 84, 103, 
104, 144, 233, 238, 247, 254, 260 

Bryce, James, 191 

Buber, Martin, 15, 16, 31, 32, 35, 40, 
41, 42, 43, 54, 56, 57, 60, 66, 67, 68, 
71, 83, 84, 85, 86, 98, 104, 105, 112, 
114, 128, 129, 135, 139, 141, 144, 
145, 183, 185, 189, 190, 191, 192, 
238, 239, 246, 250, 259, 260, 261, 
269, 276, 281, 285, 289, 299, 300, 
303, 304, 306 

Buddha, 50, 56 

Burckhardt, Jakob, 210 

Burrows, Millar, 86, 87 

Burtt, E. A., 68, 73, 84 

Calhoun, Robert L., 310 

Calvin, John, 85 

Celsus, 262, 263, 264 

Chamberlain, Houston Stewart, 274 

Child, Arthur, 24 

Cohen, A., 238, 239 

Cohen, Hermann, 209 

Cohen, Morris R., 208 

Comfort, Alex, 192 

Denbeaux, Fred, 284 

Descartes, Rene, 17 

Dewey, John, 172, 189, 200, 201, 202, 

203, 210 

Dodd, C. H., 283 
Dostoevski, Fyodor, 94, 161 
Dunbar, Flanders, 128 

Eckardt, A. Roy, 283, 284 
Eddington, Arthur S., 24 
Einstein, Albert, 18 
Eliot, T. S., 85 
Elmshe, W. A. L., 260 
Emmet, Dorothy M., 103 
Endelman, Robert, 191 
Engels, Fnednch, 69, 83, 190 
Epstein, Isadore, 105, 107, 114, 237 

Feuerbach, Ludwig, 37, 39 

Fichte, J. G., 206, 264 

Finkelstem, Louis, 273, 283, 284, 298, 


Frank, Erich, 16, 67 
Frankfort, Henri, 48, 56, 63, 68, 189 
Frankfort, H. & H. A., 192 
Freud, Sigmund, 16, 20, 29, 32, 37, 

39, 80, 81, 83, 86, 87, 103, 151, 

166, 210, 215, 253, 284 
Fromm, Erich, 306 




Galileo, 17 

Ginsberg, Morris, 24 

Ginsburg, Benj., 24 

Ginzberg, Louis, 100, 105, 238, 239 

Glatzer, N. N., 237, 306, 307 

Godwin, William, 190 

Goethe, J. W., 109 

Gogarten, Friedrich, 190 

Goldin, Judah, 105 

Gordis, Robert, 305 

Gottschalk, D. W., 23 

Grayzel, Solomon, 272, 283 

Greenberg, Hayyim, 283 

Greenstone, J. H., 228, 237 

Harrison, Jane, 306 

Harper, Ralph, 32 

Hayes, Cariton J H , 305 

Hegel, G. F. W., 200, 206 

Herberg, Will, 42, 167, 190, 191, 238, 

285, 304 

Herodotus, 20, 193 
Herskovits, Melville J., 270, 283 
Heschel, A. J., 61, 67, 72, 85, 285, 

291, 304 

Higger, M., 238, 285 
Hitler, Adolf, 210 
Hobbes, Thomas, 173, 174, 179, 190, 

191, 253 

Holborn, Hajo, 145 
Hume, David, 41, 166 
Hutchison, John A., 56, 57 
Huxley, Julian, 91, 103 
Huxley, Thomas Henry, 90, 103 
Hyatt, J. P., 67, 68, 84, 194, 209, 283 

Iremonger, F. A., 144 

Jaffe, Louis, 202 
Jaspers, Karl, 254, 260 
Jefferson, Thomas, 191 
Joad, C. E. M., 42 
Josephus, 91, 104 
Judah Halevi, 67, 266, 282 
Jung, C. G., 81,87 

Kadushin, Max, 105, 129 
Kant, Immanuel, 41, 88, 191, 211 
Kaplan, M. M., 104 
Karlin, Eli, 42 

Kaufmann, Fritz, 260 
Keynes, J. M., 133, 144, 152 
Kierkegaard, Soren, 31, 36, 67, 71, 
84, 91, 124, 129, 186, 192, 261, 282 
Knight, Harold, 83, 209 
Koestler, Arthur, 270, 283 
Kohn, Hans, 210 
Kropotkin, Peter, 90 

Lenin, V. I., 173, 190 

Lenzen, Victor F., 21, 103 

Lessing, G. E., 264 

Liebman, Joshua Loth, 68 

Lmton, Ralph, 32 

Livy, 193 

Locke, John, 17 

Lovejoy, A. O., 85 

Lowith, Karl, 84, 167, 195, 196, 209, 

210, 226, 237 
Luther, Martin, 174 
Luxemburg, Rosa, 173, 190 

Machiavelli, Niccolo, 191 
Mackintosh, H. R., 282 
Maimomdes, 67, 97, 196, 248, 260, 

266, 305 

Malinowski, Bromslaw, 170, 189 
Mantam, Jacques, 284 
Marmorstem, A., 219, 237 
Marx, Karl, 20, 27, 138, 144, 146, 

151, 152, 191, 200, 308, 215, 216, 

237, 253 

Masse, Benj. L, 167 
Maurras, Charles, 296 
Maybaum, Ignaz, 275, 284, 285 
Mayer, Carl, 269, 282, 283, 285 
Menninger, Karl, 32 
Milton, John, 239 
Minear, Paul S., 260 
Montaigne, Michael, 20 
Montefiore, C. G., & Loewe, H., 85, 

125, 129, 285, 286, 303, 307 
Moore, George Foot, 46, 49, 50, 52, 

53, 55, 56, 57, 68, 76, 85, 86, 148, 

166, 237, 238, 276, 285, 303 

Neuman, A. A., 272, 283 
Nevins, Allan & Commanger, H. S., 

Newton, Isaac, 18 

Nichols, James H., 210 

Niebuhr, H. Richard, 246, 260, 282, 

Niebuhr, Reinhold, 85, 129, 155, 166, 

167, 192, 223, 237, 239, 255, 256, 

Nietzsche, Friedrich, 69, 94, 208 

Origen, 282 

Pascal, Blaise, 15, 16, 20, 24, 42, 69, 

83, 146, 165 

Patterson, Robert Leet, 210 
Philo, 67, 93 
Plato, 50, 56, 92, 93, 203, 204, 205, 


Plutarch, 193 
Polybius, 193 
Protagoras, 20 

Reik, Theodor, 80 

Renan, Ernst, 235 

Richardson, Alan, 280, 286 

Robespierre, Maxmihen, 173 

Robinson, D. S., 24 

Robinson, H. Wheeler, 209 

Robinson, T. H., 189 

Robinson, William, 209 

Rorty, James, 16 

Rosenheim, Jakob, 249 

Rosenzweig, Franz, 36, 42, 83, 246, 

249, 250, 260, 272, 273, 283, 284, 

290, 298, 300, 304, 306, 307 
Roth, Leon, 305 
Rousseau, Jean Jacques, 85, 172, 173, 

Russell, Bertrand, 24, 31, 32, 33, 37, 

38, 41, 42, 69, 83, 90, 103, 176, 

191, 203, 210 
Rylaarsdam, J. Coert, 265, 282 

Saadia, 282 
Sacher, H., 284, 285 
Salanter, Israel, 100 
Salomon, Albert, 126, 129 
Samuel, Maurice, 284 
Sartre, J. P., 31, 32, 187, 192, 270, 

Index 313 

Schechter, Solomon, 75, 76, 85, 105, 
108, 114, 115, 123, 128, 187, 192, 
237, 238, 253, 260, 279, 282, 283, 
285, 286, 291, 292, 293, 303, 304, 
305, 306 

Schlesmger, Arthur M., Jr., 192, 201, 

Sherrill, Lewis J., 128 

Silone, Ignazio, 163, 167 

Simmel, Ernst, 284 

Simon, Ernst, 84 

Snaith, Norman H., 247, 260 

Socrates, 204 

Somervell, D. C., 221, 237 

Sorokin, Pitirim A., 207, 211 

Spaak, Paul Henri, 164 

Spencer, Herbert, 200, 201, 203, 210 

Spengler, Oswald, 206, 207 

Spinoza, Benedict, 48, 63 

Steinberg, Aaron, 56 

Streeter, B. H., 56 

Swinburne, A. C., 3 

Tacitus, 193, 196 

Tawney, R. H., 152 

Temple, William, 144 

Thomte, R., 103 

Thucydides, 193, 196 

Tilhch, Paul, 66, 209, 258, 261, 274, 

Toynbee, Arnold J., 207, 211, 220, 


Veblen, Thorstein. 285 

Waxman, Meyer, 56, 63, 68, 238 

Webb, Sidney & Beatrice, 190 

Weiss, Paul, 108, 114 

Weitz, Morris, 103 

Wellhausen, Julius, 170, 189, 249 

Westermarck, Edvard A., 24, 146 

White, Leslie A., 16 

Whitehead, A. N., 18, 21, 24, 38, 42 

Windelband, Wilhelm, 209, 237 

Wittels, Fritz, 32 

Wolfson, H. A., 104 

Woodbridge, F. J. E., 41, 42, 72, 84, 

123, 129 
Wright, G. E., 282 

127 892